Barbie dolls and stereotypes

In my earliest memories I always see myself with my Barbie dolls, so I suppose I must have been given my first when I was about three, but I cannot be sure.

By the time I was five or six I already had a few dolls, and they all corresponded to what became known as the Barbie “stereotype”: the doll portrayed a blonde, blue eyed, long legged, slim and ample bosomed woman, a sort of “ideal” woman such as those who entered the Miss Universe contests…. impossibly pretty!

All the dolls had an amazing characteristic: their feet were as if they were on tiptoe, for the only purpose of allowing them to slip on their stylish high heeled shoes that came in all the colours of the rainbow. And of course their wardrobe was destined to turn any girl crazy: they had evening dresses; city or sports gear, bathing costumes for their beach escapades… They also had “costume clothing” for us to dress them as princesses and queens and this certainly allowed for some of the best stories we made up with them, of princes and princesses of tales of old, and great chivalrous deeds and romantic entanglements. Because -and it could not be otherwise – Barbie came with a companion, her long-time boyfriend, Ken, who was a handsome blonde and blue eyed (another stereotype) muscled, tanned guy who allowed for the doll’s romantic attachments. After my brother began to play with his Action Man toys they also proved very useful to “mate” with my Barbie dolls, as they were articulated dolls so more agile – and looked more manly, so an interesting alternative for the “well behaved” Kens. Action Men were usually the “bad guys” – some of them even portrayed a beard! – while Kens were the knights in shining armour, but then many times Barbie dolls preferred the “tougher” guys and eloped with the Action Men. As in life so often Uptown girls love Downtown guys as in Billy Joel’s song

Then came other members of the Barbie family: teenagers, children, and even a brunette Barbie and a dark skinned one…but they still had the same elegant silhouette, tall and slim and on tiptoe, and we would not have had them any other way. They were ideal, a non existing perfection, as fantastic as our stories, belonging to a world of fantasy that made us dream…and that’s why playing with Barbie dolls was so unforgettable; for me, there were no other dolls comparable to them, and later on I dreamed I would have a daughter I would buy Barbie dolls for her, and I looked forward to us playing together… and of course this did not happen, as I had my beautiful boys, so now I dream of the day when a granddaughter will allow me to do this…

Because Barbie dolls were so perfect, such a part of a fantasy world, and all was well with this, I must say I was quite surprised when the other day, I read an article – and saw some photos – about how Mattel has decided to end the Barbie stereotype – apparently there were many negative comments about how Barbie did not represent “real women” being too perfect and possibly creating a negative effect in the self esteem of young girls who played with them – and create a whole set of different Barbie dolls according to women types: tall, short, large hipped, fat…they did the same with the Kens and even created one with a hair bun and another with a beer belly

As a huge Barbie doll fan I am not sure I am happy with this. I never matched the Barbie ideal – being tall but dark and far from having her curves myself – but that never bothered me for a single second. On the contrary, I loved my Barbie dolls because they were so beautiful, so perfect, so elegant and therefore so vain. I also loved Kens because they were handsome and Action Men because they were athletic. And I never dreamt I would be like Barbie or expected all the boys in my life to be like Kens or Action Men. I liked to play with “perfect” dolls because perfection is a dream, and dreams are part of our life. We all have to accept ourselves and come to terms with our less than perfect bodies, but I don’t think this is hindered or made any more difficult by the fact that our dolls look perfect.

I’m afraid the future generations will find their dolls much less fascinating than we did. I’m not against this “diversity” Barbie doll, I just believe these dolls will lose part of their magic; they will be just like anyone you meet on the street. So, as new Moms will probably buy their daughters these different Barbie dolls, according to their own stereotypes and preferences, I daresay when the time comes and I buy my future granddaughters – hopefully – their first Barbie dolls, I will stubbornly stick to the old stereotype, and buy the tall, elegant, model-like specimen model just like the ones I had (I do hope they still make them by then!). I don’t know why but they seem more like the true Barbie dolls to me.

I was just wondering how Mattel will now do with the clothes, now that that have so many different body shapes? Are there going to be sizes for Barbie doll clothes? I wonder. It’s certainly going to be complicated! Still, a little girl deserves a Barbie doll and all this will not change my mind. After all, isn’t shopping for clothes one of women’s favourite pastimes? And girls have to begin with something – so why not their Barbie dolls?



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