So You Think Barbie Is a Great Gift For Your Princess?
In 1995, Malaysians found out that ever since Barbie entered their country, there was an ensuant rise in the number of plastic surgeries and women going pathologically thin. Barbie doll, every girlâs childhood friend, is one of the worst keepsakes of our pro-men world. The doll, with its scaled down 40-18-32 stats, is nothing like how a normal woman looks. No wonder, many women grow up to believe that their only duty is to look good and remain thin! But did the toy accord some good to the society? Read on to find out!
When you look up at the ruins of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, you draw conclusions about the psyche of people you never met â how they were mostly pagan, treated women with a fair degree of fairness, led a civilized life, etc. If some archaeologist were to analyze our world some thousand years hence, she would be amused at our favourite Barbie dolls and would conclude how powerful men were a millennium ago. She would also smirk at the Middle Eastern Burqa-clad versions of the toy! Perhaps looking at Barbie, she might also get some inferiority complex, if simultaneously she wouldnât analyze pictures of real women of this age.
Barbieâs inception dates back to 1959; it was an immediate selling success because it literally had every desirable effeminate trait one could ask for, as a child or an adult. She was known for her unrealistic 40-18-32 measurements and was an epitome of perfection. Her unique quality was that she could be anything her ownerâs imagination could reach out to and at the same time be the target of the ownerâs aspiration. Within no time little girls started idolizing her and in the process objectifying themselves to suit diktats of a deeply patriarchal society.
In her beginning days, she was a housewife, a homemaker or a girlfriend â confined to the typical image women had in those days (to be a trophy wife). The first Barbie commercial featured it as a bride, and the following was the background song:
Barbie's small and so petite. Her clothes and figure look so neat... Some day I'm gonna be exactly like you.
But things changed over time; from being a housewife and a girlfriend, Barbie became an independent woman of her own. Women have always been subjugated and been made to do domestic jobs that were considered inferior back in the day. Barbie socially alleviated their presence and was a stimulus for women to break their shackles from gender inequality.
Some Good; A Lot Of Bad
Interestingly, in a world with racial bias, Barbie also evolved from being just another culturally stereotypical blonde; Barbie now comes in different ethnicities, races and religions. She became more athletic looking when athleticism was part of the trend and constantly evolved her body. During the time of elections in the USA, Barbie could be the President as well. But thatâs the only good bit!
Barbie remains tied down by Ken, her boyfriend of sorts, who is labelled as âSugar Daddy Kenâ by his own company, Mattel. Dictionary says a âSugar Daddyâ is an older male who is there to buy gifts and please young females to lure them into companionship or sexual favours. So the facade of independence went down the drain; Barbie, like a good girl, had to have a man in her life! That man would offer her gifts and in return would get sexual favours!
Irrespective of what Barbie became over the years, she remained beautiful (with different set of features for different cultures and races factored in). No one ever saw a plump, slightly less beautiful version of her. So, yes, while she became an architect, a doctor or a model, she continued to have a fab body, a showy dress and a boyfriend â in simple words, economically viable. At the end of the day, thus, Barbieâs primary attribute is still beauty and is given priority over other aspects. This impractical, unrealistic and unattainable persona Barbie stands for is a stereotype being formulated in the minds of children and adults, which ultimately causes grave concern for those who choose her to be their role model. âIf Barbie has it, so should I,â thinks the average female child who owns a Barbie doll and dreams of becoming like her, often putting herself in her toyâs shoes.
In July 1992, Mattel released âTeen Talk Barbieâ that had pre-programmed messages such as: "Will we ever have enough clothes?", "I love shopping!" and âMath is tough.â Perhaps Mattel had never heard about Shakuntala Devi! For those of you who donât know, she can multiply two 13-digit numbers and tell you the result in less than thirty seconds (without a calculator!).
Examples From Across The Globe
Malaysia was made to call for a nationwide ban on the selling of Barbie in 1995 and this was because they saw a rise in anorexia nervosa and plastic surgery ever since Barbie entered their market.
In 2002, the Russian president Vladimir Putin said that "Barbie dollsâ outrageous curves are corrupting the minds of childrenâ hence, Barbie was banned in Russia because she was unable to promote âwholesomeâ values. Of course, these words were said by many people with better credentials too.
Not Just Barbie
Unfortunately, Barbie is not the only source of the negative portrayal of women. What must be noticed is that Barbie, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Little Mermaid, etc. have one thing in common: perfect appearance â long-shiny hair, a tiny-flat waist and smooth-flawless skin.
Walk into any toy store; the games available for girls would be âTelephone tagâ, âElectronic Dream Phoneâ, âBarbieâs Virtual Makeover CD ROMâ and the like. These games do not challenge the mind of young girls and only ask them to quietly play the game in harmony. This implies that girls are supposed to remain silent, which once again, is another stereotype being created. For a child to be taught to obsess over appearance just for social acceptance just expands on erroneous gender-role creation. Naturally, this leads to girls subconsciously objectifying themselves throughout their lives, damaging their self esteem and sometimes, their health.
The Stuff About 40-18-32
Researchers from University of South Australia and the University of New South Wales conducted a study in 1996 where they studied the measurements of Barbie and scaled them to adult life-size proportions and found that the probability of a woman having a body even similar to Barbieâs was less than 1 in 100,000. Barbieâs unrealistic figure has brought about the advent of unrealistic expectations of how women should look like.
Cindy Jackson was a perfectly normal singer until she became victim of the Barbie culture. She said, âI looked at a Barbie doll when I was 6 and said that was what I wanted to look like.â Cindy followed her dream that was also illustrated in the first Barbie commercial. At 21, Cindy went to London and by the age of 33, she began her series of plastic surgeries to become the ever beautiful Cindy Jackson; she was as plastic as Barbie â her role model. She spent about $100,000 on 55 surgeries. She got her eyebrows, eyeliner, lip liner and the full lipstick tattooed on. Of course, not all girls go all the way like her; but even having one per cent of this obsession is dangerous enough. Cindy has gone ahead and made a fortune out of her tryst. She advises various clients across the globe on best plastic surgeons.
(Cindy Jackson: Now and Then)
And It Doesnât End With Just Looks
The patriarchal society that expects women to be equivalent to Barbie first, demands other things from them later. So, in âSleeping Beautyâ, when the Prince kissed Aurora to wake her up and break the evil witchâs spell, it was also ensured that generations of readers continue to believe that he was the reason behind Cinderellaâs acquiring justice and her servitude coming to an end. In Aladdin, Jasmineâs oppressor was a man, and her saviour was also a man. She was kept captive by Jaffar and was saved by the heroics of her love interest Aladdin.
The Barbie culture has painted a rather bleak picture for women; it has made them conform to acts of shallowness, such as being in perfect physical shape, as preached by Barbie, and yet has to a great degree failed in allowing women to become a force to be reckoned with.
(Zahra Khan is an economics student at the prestigious Lahore University for Management Sciences. Having spent most of her life in Saudi Arabia, she has been exposed to a myriad of cultures. A self-confessed Narcissist, she likes to listen to music in her spare time, and is equally close to her relatives in Pakistan, India and other parts of the world.)
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