Tag Archive: Barbie

I know I’ve talked about Barbie here before, but she’s such a cultural icon I figured the ol’ gal deserved a second look.
Barbie dolls first came out in the 1950s and were one of the first toy dolls that looked like a teenager/grown-up as opposed to a baby. From the start parents worried that Barbie’s figure was too sexualized for young children. Just the fact that she had breasts was scandalous (their size in relation to the rest of her body is another issue). Many mothers were hesitant to buy the doll for their daughters, until advertisements started pushing Barbie as a tool to teach girls proper grooming habits. Apparently that angle outweighed the negative aspects of Barbie and made her acceptable as a toy for children.
I honestly believe that Barbie started out innocent enough in America. Okay, yes, the idea for her came originally from Bild Lili, a German comic character and doll aimed primarily at adult men…but that was never the target audience here. Here Barbie’s measurements were necessary to scale fashionable clothes down to her size without having them just look like sacks. But as we all know, many issue have since been projected onto Barbie. The main one being the issue of body image. There is a segment of the population who believe that Barbie dolls are harmful to girls’ self-esteem and body image. Does playing with a Barbie make a girl think she has to be skinny, large-chested, blonde, and blue-eyed? Maybe. Obviously I can’t speak for everyone. But I know I never felt that way. Have I ever suffered from negative body image; felt I wasn’t thin enough, my boobs not big enough? Sure. It’s probably hard to find a girl who hasn’t suffered from at least one of those issues. But it wasn’t my Barbie doll that made me feel that way. It’s the society that holds Barbie’s figure as ideal that did.
It can also be argued that Barbie reinforces the idea that women need to have a man, since the manufacturers felt the need to make Ken to be Barbie’s boyfriend, despite no real desire for him from the children. I suppose this is kind of true. But overall I call bullshit on that. For one, it’s not like they were married or anything. And it seems rather apparent that Barbie is self-sufficient, since she’s abel to get every job imaginable. Clearly the girl can pay her own bills.
Where does G.I. Joe (and other dolls for boys) come into this? On his own, G.I. Joe isn’t really that bad. It could be argued that he promotes violence in little boys, but these days I think there are bigger promoters of violence than action figures. No, the terribleness of G.I. Joe comes in when he’s compared to Barbie. Just the term “action figure” for boys’ toys and “doll” for girls’ toys shows an engrained idea that boys are supposed to be active while girls are expected to be static. What’s terrible and ridiculous is that this expectation is built into the dolls themselves and their joints. Boys’ action figures can have upwards of 20 movable joints. This allows for complex movements and actions. The original Barbie had only five joints. Modern Barbies have more, and are more flexible but still have nowhere near the amount of joints the action figures do. Poor Barbie can’t even stand on her own due to her perpetually tip-toed feet.
So are Barbie and G.I. Joe terrible? Maybe. With the exception of the joints thing, he dolls themselves aren’t actually terrible. They’re just toys. Really it’s the meanings we impose on these toys that are terrible. Unfortunately I think it’s harder to change those than the toys themselves.

original-teenage-fashion-model-barbie gi_joe_boxed_man_of_action1

If you’re interested in the whole Barbie vs. G.I. Joe thing, check out the essay, “Barbie and Action Man: Adult Toys for Girls and Boys, 1959-93” by Judy Attfield.


I realize this blog post is not art or philosophy related (though I’m sure I could connect these things to art if I really wanted to), but I’ve had some things on my mind that I need to get out, and it’s my blog so I can do what I want.  Bear with me.

A few things have led to the writing of this post.  One being that I’ve had to read about Barbies and weddings and the like for my Popular Culture class.  The other is that I’ve now heard from two different places the idea that there is no feminist movement today.  Both of these things have raised some questions.


My first question: Are there really girls who think they should look like their Barbie dolls?  I had a couple of different Barbie dolls when I was younger (still do somewhere) but I never saw her as some kind of ideal woman or anything.  They were just another toy to play with.  I didn’t think all dogs should look like my stuffed dogs, I didn’t think all girls should look like Barbie.  Then again, the fact that the Barbie I played with the most was the Pocahontas/Native American Barbie may say something about me compared to other girls.  My main Barbie wasn’t the blonde-haired blue-eyed Barbie; she was different from the outset (though she still had the same figure).  I think the notion (and pressure) that women should have huge tits and a tiny waist comes more from mass culture images and ideas than mere toys.  If the idea that this is what women should look like wasn’t out there, Barbie would not look like that in the first place.  Barbie didn’t create the problem, she just helps perpetuate it.  But that’s no reason to hate her.  Don’t take it out on a doll.  Take it out on the society that makes that image acceptable.  There have been dolls that are more realistic looking, and they just don’t sell.  What does that tell us?  Sometimes I feel like making such a big deal out of what Barbie looks like is almost worse than saying nothing at all.  Like I said, when I was growing up, I never thought that there were people who expected other people to look like Barbie.  Perhaps by constantly repeating how horrible Barbie is because she gives girls bad body image we’re putting that idea in girls heads more than if we didn’t say anything at all.  Do people ever worry about boys playing with GI Joe and whatever other toys boys play with (I really have no idea) and thinking that they are going to think they’re supposed to look like that and worry about boys having negative body images?  If we’re going to put all this weight on what toys look like and what that may do to our children, maybe we should.


My second question:  Why are these things so engrained in girls’ minds?  The pressure to look a certain way, to act a certain way, to get married, make babies, etc.?  It’s easy to read the feminist literature, agree with it, and get angry at the sexism that surrounds us.  But it’s much harder to actually fight against these feelings in real life.  Even when you logically know that these things shouldn’t matter, you find yourself falling into thoughts and behaviors that sometimes feel like they’ve been with you since birth.  While it is definitely the society that puts the specific ideas and images in our minds, sometimes I wonder if there isn’t something in our nature that predisposes us to certain things.  For example, I’m in no real hurry to get married, I’m not one of those girls who’s been planning her wedding since she was 5.  I don’t even remember ever playing wedding with my toys (though I probably did at least once or twice).  Yet for some reason I’m strangely obsessed with shows like My Fair Wedding and Say Yes to the Dress.  Why?  I don’t know!  I really don’t care much about weddings at all, but here I am, tearing up at a couple I don’t even know getting married on TV.  Is it really society that’s made me feel this way?  Or is it just some essence of being female that makes me want to watch?  The idea of the princess/fairy tale/happy ending seems to have been around for so long, I feel like there almost has to be something about it that just appeals to us as humans (and probably mostly females) on a practically genetic level for it to be so popular and to have lasted so long.  The media can push whatever they want on society, but if it doesn’t appeal to people it’s not going to become popular, no matter how hard they try.  I realize I’m approaching all this from a very American, white girl point of view.  But I’m pretty sure most societies and cultures have their own fairy tales.  I don’t care who you are, everyone wants their happy ending.  It just happens that in our culture the fairy tale wedding is the symbol of that happy ending for women.


Question three: Why does any of this even matter?  Ok, here’s the thing.  Men and women, males and females…we’re different.  And you know what?  That’s ok!  Actually, it’s great!  We should all be different. Men and women should be different, just like women should be different from other women and men different from other men.  We should celebrate our differences.  The problem arises when we use these differences to negate and put down others.  Little girls can play with different things than little boys, that’s fine.  But they shouldn’t be taught that there are things they can’t/shouldn’t do just because they’re not a boy.  And the reverse is true as well really.  Boys shouldn’t be taught that there are things they shouldn’t/can’t do because they’re not a girl.

In my mind it all comes down to respect.  Yes, we’re all different.  But we’re also all human beings, and we all just want to be treated with the respect we deserve.  Honestly, I think one of the main faults of second-wave feminism is that they had no respect for men.  What kind of person are you, if in your quest for respect you have to completely trash another group?  To get respect you must treat others and yourself with respect first.  We should never stop fighting for the respect we deserve.  Not because we’re women, but because we’re human beings.


I shall now step down off my soapbox.  And I promise I’ll write about something art related next time.