Barbie in the feministic discussion

Ever since Barbie was first produced, she has raised eyebrows with her looks and her attitude. To put it shortly, she is way too skinny, too long legged, too big breasted and utterly too happy. Her being blonde and blue eyed hasn’t been a very popular thing either. (Although the first Barbie was produced as a blonde and brunette with almost black eyes, is not common knowledge.) Her being heterosexual has raised questions lately, not to mention her swapping boyfriends after braking up with Ken.

Instead of repeating every accusation made against Barbie, I would like to point out a few things that are generally over-looked when criticising her.

Barbie’s figure

There is a very practical reason for Barbie’s world famous figure. By definition, Barbie is a fashion doll, created for little girls who were immensely interested in their mother’s wardrobe and messing with it day in and day out trying on outfits that wouldn’t suit them. Barbie’s creator Ruth Handler watched her little girl playing with paper dolls, swapping fashions on them, and thought about a three dimensional doll for the game. This was where Barbie came in. She became a 3D paper doll.

There are some issues with making clothes on a doll of 12 inches however. First of all, the fabrics are mostly a lot thicker than what they feel like on the human – after all, the fabrics are mostly the same as ours. Therefore Barbie had to be moulded to adapt to the thickness of the fabrics, not to mention the seams bulking up especially on the waist. When you look at a clothed Barbie doll, she doesn’t seem that disproportional, does she? She looks feminine; like a model, yes, there’s no question about that. However, after only a couple of layers of clothing, she starts looking a bit to the chubby side. Let’s be brutally honest though, would you buy a fat doll? I sure wouldn’t. Why would I even, Barbie is a play thing, an object of dreams, she’s not supposed to be realistic picture of the world, but something that can make the dreams come true – even if only in the play world.

On contrary to the common belief though, Barbie does come in various shapes and sizes. There’s a version that is even skinnier than the normal Barbie, but isn’t as busty or wide hipped. Barbie’s best friend Midge has also appeared in quite a large body, as if she just had a baby.

Why is Mattel required to produce dolls nobody wants?

I must wonder what logic requires a company to produce an item that will stay standing on the store shelves waiting for non-existing buyers while being praised by moralists. To my honest opinion, Mattel has made the mistake of listening to the moralists too much for their own good. Of course you have to please the parents somewhat, but let me ask this: Is a parent who is disgusted enough to require Barbie’s mouth to be closed because she sees that being pervert likely to buy Barbie after she smiles sophisticatedly? My guess would be no. A parent like that will take that as a victory and move on to the next subject: Her eyes are too big, her hair is too thick, she’s too blonde or she’s too shallow.

Now imagine the moralists dream Barbie doll. She’s only 10 inches tall while Barbie usually stands 12 inches. Her waist would be equal to the measurement of her breasts and hips, but it would be softer so you could create a waistline by squeezing the belt a bit tighter on her. She would have a very expressive face, a genuinely happy smile with sparkling eyes. She would have a mixed colour hair, that hasn’t been cut to any shape. Okay, now maybe you would buy the doll. Possibly I would too (it would make a great addition to the collection of mine) but would your 8-year old want it? If I remember anything from my attitudes as a child, I wouldn’t look at that one twice. I only get one Barbie a year, and I WILL NOT waste that one change on a doll that looks like my mom!

But I can’t measure up to her!

Did your brother get an identity crisis because he couldn’t perform in the same manner as his Action Man or his Transformer? That he never got the amount of cars as his Matchbox car collection? He never even got one BMW, and now drives a stupid Honda Civic. Now does your brother blame it on his toys if he fails to be what he pretended to be when he was playing with his fire truck? I would guess not. He says he doesn’t exercise enough to be as fit as his firemen were and he doesn’t work enough to get a BMW. And for crying out loud, Transformers were toys! Who ever in his right mind would compare oneself to a toy anyway?

Now here’s a question for you. At which point did women mistake Barbie for a real woman competing over the same men? I remember from my childhood wanting to be like Barbie. To me “like Barbie” meant the following: I wanted to be an adult. I wanted to be attractive – I didn’t want as big boobs or wide hips, as I compared her to the real adults in my world, and they didn’t look exactly like Barbie, and if they did, they’d be freaks. I didn’t want to grow up as a freak, just an attractive adult female. I also wished Barbie was brown haired, but I never thought Mattel didn’t like brunettes, Barbie just happened to be blonde, that’s all! (Around those times dying your hair wasn’t all that common, and being a brunette Scandinavian, everyone around me was blonde anyway, so I didn’t think much of it.) Nowadays Barbie comes in so many colours and variations, that finding a really blonde Barbie is actually quite difficult.

Barbie today

She’s criticized for braking up with Ken. The divorce rate in around the Barbie buying countries is about 50%. Now if Barbie and Ken would stay together forever, doesn’t it make mom and dad seem BAD because they broke up? In my honest opinion, kids don’t give a damn. Barbie, Ken, Barbie, Blaine, what ever. Does your kid really even care what the name on the box is, Theresa is as much a Barbie as Kayla is, and even Christie, the African American friend of Barbie is in kids mind still a Barbie. My Barbie was called Paula, and the Ken was called Nick, I didn’t give rat’s ass what was printed on the box. In my opinion both of the names were bad, but I loved the dolls. The name was easy to change!

Also today Barbie’s figure is changed dramatically compared to the 80’s figure us adults seem to connect with “Barbie body image”. Anyone criticising her based on the memories should go to the Barbie aisle and take a good look. Her waist is completely proportioned to her breasts, her nose is no longer bent to the form that makes it impossible to breath, and the hair is no longer blonde on all the dolls. (You don’t want blondes to disappear all together, do you? What message would that send to the naturally blond girls?) The biggest issue today on Barbie is her unrealistic head size, and the company to blame for that little issue is elsewhere. The Bratz dolls took the doll market by surprise creating dolls that give a new meaning to the word “disproportional”.

Does your kid really need Mattel to write a script for her plays?

Barbie is often regarded as being shallow and stupid. I wonder what people expect. How deep thoughts do you think a vinyl head with nothing but a bit of hair stuck inside of it can produce? When kids play games, do they really follow the narrations the toy company laid out? Seriously, if they do, there’s something wrong with them, and it’s not the company. It’s not Barbie’s (or Mattel’s) duty to come up with deep thoughts; it’s the player’s responsibility to create personality for the doll. This is where imagination comes in. If you didn’t have it, or your child doesn’t have it, well, you better go shopping with Barbie, which is the easy solution. Personally, my Barbie-dolls NEVER went shopping when I played with them. They were heroic, adventurous and absolutely loved swimming! Sometimes they lived in jungles, sometimes they were princesses, sometimes they had to fight the evil and self centred girls next door (who usually were those cheap dolls that had non-bendable legs and were completely and utterly ugly). My dolls took hikes and sleigh rides, enjoying out doors as much as I did. Sometimes Ken was playing the role of Tarzan, who was my ideal guy at the time, and of course Barbie played Jane. They did everything I did or wanted to do, and they were interested in things I found interesting. And my Barbie-dolls had boyfriends, who were still out of my reach at the age of 10.

My friend used to have the Astronaut Barbie from 1985. My friend had named her Norah, and I don’t think Norah ever got to the space despite her gear. We had no interest in going to the space, but we both thought the doll was stunningly beautiful. Instead Norah attended to horses and did very well in jumping fences, as her little owner wanted to. My friend never got a change to get a horse for herself as she grew up, but she didn’t grow bitter at the doll that gave her false hopes for her future, but instead felt joyous for the opportunity of at least pretending she was riding herself.

We didn’t have the opportunity to furnish Barbie’s house with all those fancy pink furniture that was available in stores. Instead we created the houses ourselves. Little decorative boxes made great tables or cabinets, a building block could function as a seat and beds were easy to make by folding a towel for the dolls. Houses were created on the terrace of our house of chairs and blankets, and the swimming pool used to be my bath when I was a baby. Can you really claim that those games gave us wrong values?

I did notice though, that not all my friends were that capable in playing and pretending. They didn’t see the soul of the dolls, and actually believed that Barbie was just a doll! I thought they were the unhappiest kids there was, felt sorry for them but let them be with their dull dolls. (To this day I still don’t like the dolls my unimaginative friends had.) Instead I carried my dollies to my other friends houses, and played for hours and hours the most complicated relationship issues and turns of events and had absolute blast!

Why do I love Barbie?

I can’t speak for the other collectors or the children, but to me Barbie is an endless inspiration for imagination and creativity! I have close to a hundred Barbie-dolls, and I have a different relationship with each one of them. They have personalities, most of them, some of them I don’t like that much as they have a personality trait I don’t like, some of them are utterly fun to be with and spend time with, some of them are caring and nurturing and some are cool and unattached. I even have one lesbian doll. It’s not that Mattel would have printed “Lesbian Barbie” on the box; she just has the kind of look in her eyes that I instantly considered her to be in the mentioned minority group. My dolls consist mainly on Caucasian girls, but I have a couple of African American and Asian girls too. Steven is the only ethnic male doll I have, although one of them has bit of an Arabic look about him. I don’t find this a problem; the ratio is the same as my real life friends, although I only have ethnic male friends for some reason.

I’m still playing Barbie, occasionally I make clothes, but my real interest is customizing and restoring them. I love breathing life into a doll that was never appreciated before. Taking photos is the most rewarding form of playing, and I wish I had had the opportunity to photograph the plays I used to enjoy with Barbie as a kid. I don’t have any pictures of my favorite dolls, and I regret that deeply. (Now that digital cameras are popular, taking pictures of your children playing will be a good idea, let me tell you.) Nowadays I take great pleasure in managing to set up a scene that makes the doll look alive and taking a shot of that. A still picture can turn the doll even more alive than it is, as you can almost see her moving before the shot was taken. Further, with a tripod and a photo editor you can actually make them move by animating them.

Barbie has so many features about her. Sometimes she’s very official and powerful, sometimes playful and naive – just like me. I turned out to be like Barbie, because I made Barbie into my own image.

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3 Comments on "Barbie in the feministic discussion"

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Carla Dupuy

So true… I don’t know why there are so many people who disapproves of Barbie. I love her then..’til now…even my twin girls love her!

Sharon J.

So touched of the article abt you & Barbie! As I am a Barbie lover & collector, really appreciate your writing. Plus thx for posting a lot of informations of Barbie!


Thank you for saying so. 🙂