Life in Plastic, it’s Fantastic!

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January 28th, 2016 was a
day that changed for American beauty ideals. Well, let’s be honest here. It
changed for Barbie. The popular doll that has been sold on toy-store shelves
since her debut in 1959 took a turn toward the 21st century. What
has changed? Her body. Over the years, people have grown tired of the figure
that Barbie possessed. Her tall-big-boobed-small-waist frame was not only
deceiving, but unrealistic. Researchers revealed that if Barbie were a human,
she’d be 5’10” and weigh 110 pounds. Her measurements would estimate a 39" bust, 18" waist and 33" hips.

Just last year, a new line of
Barbie’s were released offering dolls in eight different skin tones, 14 facial
structures, 22 hairstyles, 23 hair colors and 18 eye colors (Time Magazine). I
agree with this. Barbie’s blonde hair, blue-eyed features do not highlight the
reality of American women and girls today. It’s unrealistic to point to the original
Barbie and say: “That’s what an American girl looks like”. After 56 years it
was time for a change. But when does it go too far? When do we stop and let a
toy, be a toy?

Now, Barbie is offered in three
body types: curvy, tall, and petite. What would normally be a time to clap in
rejoice that body ideals are now being represented realistically, I couldn’t
help but scratch my head for a minute. It’s not that simple. Of course part of
me is wildly happy that Barbie is now being made into body types that represent
what real girls look like. We have to realize however, that Barbie is a fictitious
character. Does she have an impact on societal standards? Most certainly. Is she
who we want as a role model for the younger generation? I would hope not.  

It’s important for fictitious
characters in movies, TV shows, and toys to represent a healthy standard for
young girls in America. This means diversity all across the board: body type,
skin color, hair color, etc. But at what point are we going to stop and say: “It’s
just a toy. Barbie isn’t a real role
model.” Personally, I’d much rather teach my future daughters to look up to
real women in American society that represent healthy ideals: Oprah Winfrey,
Sophia Bush, Michelle Obama, Ellen DeGeneres, Lena Dunham, Lisa Ling…the list
goes on and on and those are just some of the women I look up to personally. By
changing the figures of Barbie, the company is pushing for mothers of young
girls to base their standards of beauty off of a doll.

What’s infuriating for me is that
this idea came to the company during a time with Barbie’s sale were
significantly dropping. Barbie sales dropped 16% in 2014, a huge jump from the
3% drop in 2012, and the 6% drop in 2013 (Time Magazine). Mattel is competing
with other outlets, including Hasbro’s rights on the Elsa doll from the wildly
popular movie Frozen. The company knew
they needed to make a change or Barbie was going to fall off the market. Was
this change for the benefit of young girls or the company? I’m not naïve enough
to know capital gain controls much of our societies decisions. It’s a dog-eat-dog
world, or in this case, a doll-eat-doll world.
Has Elsa from Frozen made a
HUGE impact on society the last few years? Yes. Has Barbie made a large impact
on the last 50+ years? Yes. Are these real women we can look to for advice,
guidance, and understanding of the world? Not exactly.  

What’s also baffling is that these
three body types do not even come close to the reality of a woman’s physique.
Where is the Barbie with large hips, a small waist, flat chest and muscular
arms? Where’s the Barbie with short legs, a long torso, a large chest and round
legs and butt? I’ll stop because you get my point. Tall, petite and curvy don’t
come close to the diversity of women’s bodies. It opens a can of worms to
expect dolls to really emanate female figures. In a conversation recently with
a friend, she mentioned that comparison in school isn’t going to change because
Barbie is now curvier, taller, or shorter. Unfortunately, we can’t control that
young girls are going to see differences in their bodies. Will the new Barbie’s
help young girls views on the differences in themselves and their peers? Maybe.
I’m not disregarding that this is a step forward in order to help bullying
problems. However, the issue is far more complicated than what it is being
reduced to in this case.

This is a hard piece to write for
me. As someone that is open about my opinion about society and body image
issues, I thought I would be thrilled when I started seeing articles announcing
the change. But something didn’t sit right with me from the beginning. I had a
gut feeling that something was off. Then I started to feel guilty. I can complain
about societal standards, than when something is done, I’m still not happy?
Talk about feeling ungrateful, hypocritical, and hard to please. But the more I
thought about it, the more I realized my gut was telling me something for a reason. Some may disagree with me, while
others may realize that there is more to it than changing Barbie’s figure, and
if you’re the former, that’s OK. I embrace healthy discussion. For now, I’d like to consider Barbie’s retirement party. Imagine all the pink! 

until next time, 

xo Caroline

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