Monday, July 28, 2014

In Defense of Barbie: Why She Doesn't Totally Suck As A "Role Model"

Lately, I've noticed a trend of people bashing on Mattel's Barbie.  The reasons why Barbie seems to be so loathed is based on how she looks.  Barbie is blond with blue eyes and exists in unnatural proportions (most commented on is her waist - which was apparently designed for ease of dressing/undressing the doll during play).

So Barbie has inhuman proportions.  So do Cabbage Patch Dolls, Bratz Dolls, and any number of other doll toys (even action figures).  As a kid, it wasn't about how precise a toy's proportions were, it was about how much fun I could create using the toy as a prop.  That's right, Barbie was a prop.  A tool, used by myself and my friends to aid in the creation of a story.

Let me add to this that the standard Barbie was not my favorite and versions I had of her were typically relegated to side characters.  My favorite Barbie was from an international collection, India Barbie.  I am a Caucasian female and grew up in a predominately white community.  My favorite Barbies were all ethnic (India, Tibet, China, Middle Eastern, Native American).  Since these were my favorites, I actually wound up doing a lot of research into foreign cultures and still love that kind of research to this day.  Gee, Barbie helped me become a xenophile, what a bad role model she is.

Now let's take a look at Barbie's accomplishments: She graduated college; worked at a grocery store; worked at a coffee shop; has been a pediatrician;  was an obstetrician (yup they had the set and she wasn't the pregnant girl, she was the doctor); was a business woman; worked in politics; was a singer; an astronaut; and so many more.  Barbie is quite literally an unstoppable woman.  She has held traditional "female" jobs and also traditional "male" jobs.  Yup, a toy that shows a woman in every line of work you can imagine.  Last I checked, Bratz dolls and Monster High dolls were all about fashion and popularity.  Which one do you like better?

Additionally, Barbie owns a house, a mansion, a condo, a convertible, an RV, a boat, and plane (yeah, she was a pilot too).  She also has several pets, ranging from cats to dogs to horses.  Look at the cats and dogs sometime, they are not easily identifiable breeds which means probably mixed breeds adopted.
Wow, she's a successful property owner and pet owner.

By the way, the whole Barbie and Ken thing, it's an on-again/off-again kind of thing.  Most importantly though is that they are friends first and foremost (or at least that was how I'd always interpreted it, even as a kid).  She succeeded where she did with Ken as an add-on - having a man has never defined Barbie nor been a requirement for her.  I like to believe that he cheered her on the whole time though.  Not too mention the cadre of friends she has, who also engage in as many careers.

If children learn by seeing, then why is a woman who is marketed as achieving and accomplishing so much vilified?  Is it really because "she's unrealistic"?  So, we will ignore the apparent intelligence that Barbie possesses (let's face it Doctors, Astronauts, Teachers, etc. all tend to be fairly intelligent people) and focus on her body.
In a time when we are trying to get young girls and young women to accept different body types and different appearances, we will make body image the reason to completely disregard a toy who visually demonstrates a woman's ability to accomplish whatever she wants as a confident, independent female.
Because that isn't a mixed message.

Accepting and valuing you personal body image is for all girls, tall, short, small, large, and everything in between.  But that is a different rant for a different day.

Did I play with Barbie as a kid?  Absolutely, I holed myself in my room with my cousin for entire weekends.
What did I learn?  To create stories, to appreciate life in different cultures, and different times.  I learned the only limits I had, were my own.

Any kid who plays with Barbie and thinks she is the ideal, epitome of beauty and has to look like her, probably has more going on than a new "body-conscious" doll would ever fix.
I could be wrong but that is my experience.