At Last: The Evolution of Barbie
Whether enabling her cheating on Ken with my brothers’ Action Man, using a dressing gown cord to help her abseil to the garden or decapitating her and her mates with alarming frequency, I loved my Barbie. Whatever trials and tribulations I (perfectly normally) inflicted on my dolls, it most certainly wasn’t a reflection of latent anger inside my 7 year old self at the utterly sexist plaything and her unattainable body image. Just good old fashioned age-appropriate mucking about.
But it is true that Barbie has long been out dated. It’s no secret that her body proportions are such that she wouldn’t be able to stand up on her delicately pointed feet. And I believe it was a bunch of Finnish scientists who took great delight in revealing that were she a real live woman, Barbie would have insufficient body fat to menstruate. It’s not the kind of aspiration you want to put in front of your kids is it? Not the kind of role model you want them to have in those precious formative years. Although she did ditch Ken to go it alone for a bit and had a bit of a fling with an Aussie surfer dude so there’s that.
Mattel have finally twigged that modern mothers don’t want that kind of role model for their children and it’s starting to affect sales. Of course the driver is financial but the outcome is welcome: Barbie has a brand new look. Or 33 brand new looks to be precise. In a bid to better represent the diverse beauty of real women there is now taller Barbie, petite Barbie and curvier Barbie. Barbie with an array of skin tones, hair colours and facial features. She can now wear flats, progress indeed. And unlike more questionably diverse earlier sidekicks, the range of new dolls are all Barbie.
Young girls can start to learn that there is more than one version of beauty and that all are acceptable. Parents who want to allow their children the creativity of role playing with dolls, however macabre those games may be, without sending the message that looking like Barbie is something to aspire to may start to be turned back onto Barb. There is a global shift happening for girls and new Barbie is another step in the right direction, a slightly bigger step than she could ever have made in those ridiculous heels.
There’s still room for improvement, there always will be.
But for now, Barbie with curves and red hair and short legs: it’s a start. Whatever next? Breastfeeding Barbie? Imagine. And I wonder if Presidential Candidate Barbie will ever get another outing…