Monday, February 20, 2006


barbie is one of a kind - there will probably never be another doll quite like it. thank god.

in 1957 Mattel mildly remodified a german pornographic toy called lilli, to market it as barbie. lilli was popular for her tight sweater and removable miniskirt. it took until 1971 for barbie to lose lilli's sly down and sideways glance and be able to at least look straight. she has still not lost the anti-gravitational breasts.

the messages tumbled out faster and more blatantly. in 1984, there was a barbie doll sold with the slogan "the fate of the world is in the hands of one beautiful girl" (the emphasis is mine). as a tribute to the women who had won their right to employment after so many struggles, the first career barbie was a teenage fashion model. *carefully refraining from comment*

while barbie spans some 40 plus nationalities in an attempt to be more "realistic", there has never been a barbie in a wheelchair, or with a disability. so mattel introduced her friend becky in a hot pink wheelchair. that was about all the concession to reality - becky's body isnt noticably different from barbies, though you'd think being confined to a wheelchair would have some effect.

just to help blur the lines between reality and male fantasy further, and thoroughly confuse children, there are versions of barbie as cher, as britney spears , marilyn monroe and other real people as well.

(oh, by the way, marilyn monroe was a size 14/16 - women have been made to look thinner and thinner in media portrayals over the years.)

according to mattel, little girls in the states have about 10 barbies each when growing up. there's also a depressingly high rate of eating disorders in the states. and yep, we're catching up. the doll probably has an even more negative effect on body image in countries like ours, because barbie is aryan, and we will never have such a build naturally. ( not that any real woman would - i just meant the overall body structure barbie is based on)

but those are just the kids - we'll know better we grow up. as adult women, we'll be bombarded with media messages to prance around singing

" I'm a blonde single girl, in a fantasy world
Dress me up, make it tight, I'm your dolly
Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky"
- Barbie girl, Aqua.



Blogger ~River~ said...

Mattel had yielded to the demand to incorporate 'other' racial/national identities. (The "40 plus nationalities" that you pointed out). Some googling tells me this:

"African-American and Hispanic-American Barbies appeared in 1980, an Eskimo Barbie in 1982, a Hawaiian Barbie in 1983, and a Chinese Barbie in 1993."

Over the years, more of such Barbies have been made. However, they do not solve the problems that you've raised in your post. Indeed, the problems become more complex and take on other dimensions.

Take a look at something I'd written some time back.

9:35 pm  
Blogger Rabin said...

m., very interesting post, infact i was thinking in similar lines on the weekend when I went shopping with my little neice, (not about barbie but about how children are pushed towards certain stereotypes by their parents). A girl child growing up in tamil nadu, would be used to a choppu samaan (toy kitchen stuff), which they are given to play house.

Not really realising that they are doing this parents are pushing the child towards a more submissive role in the family. Boys get the action toys, stuff that they can break but girls start getting trained for a life in the kitchen.
downright depressing when you think about it..

1:35 am  
Blogger Senthil said...

The same thing extends to sports in most schools - in mine, the most vivid memories were guys playing volleyball and the girls sitting outside the classrooms, just watching and occasionally, if they felt bold enough, cheering. And though girls were 'allowed' to be active in sports, I never saw much encouragement given in that direction. But that was over a decade ago. Hopefully things have changed...

Oh, and in those memories, I always found myself outside the physics lab with other nerd friends, making wisecracks. Hah. There's another stereotype, but not pertinent to the issue.

10:23 am  
Blogger the wannabe indian punkster said...

Very profound...
In a way Barbie represents the slow but sure dehumanization of women over the ages.
As Barbie became more popular her waist became smaller, her breasts became inhumanly large and her hair became longer and impossibly blond.
The fact that we now have Barbies representing different cultures and nationalities is only scratching the surface,her inhuman body hasnt changed. What about the impossible ideals placed on a woman body...ideals which can never be realistically achieved......and heres some food for thought...if Barbie were human, her doll proportions would translate into a woman 5 feet 6 inches tall, 110 pounds, with a 40-inch bust, an 18-inch waist and 33- inch hips.
How scary is that? And not humanly possible by any means.

12:19 pm  
Blogger S. said...

more on wat megha said about proportions....they figured such a woman wouldn't be able to stand and will have to be on all fours to be able to ba;ance her skewed structure!

I remember hating them though, cos they were so small and cost so much! I mean you cant even hit someone effectively with a barbie!

7:28 pm  
Blogger Anurag said...

Do you mean I should stop playing with Barbies?

8:48 pm  
Anonymous SloganMurugan said...

Let little kids play with whatever they want. I guess this is just a fad that lasted a little longer than expected...

4:00 am  
Anonymous Hiren said...

Some little girls are as cute as barbie if not better. Can't help wondering what kind of lovely ladies they would blossom into.

4:57 am  
Blogger m. said...

river: the representation of other nationalities was such a transparent sop to activists...! and that "exotic eastern" thing.. ugh.

rabin: yes, girls play at housekeeping and boys at being doctors and firemen. and thats because "boys will be boys" while girls will be invisible.

senthil: the good ole days when we had to battle for a volleyball! luckily there were quite a few firebrands in my class, so we werent that sadly off :)
and eyeww, physics lab = spring balances! *shudder*

the punkster: hear hear!

s. : *grave face* MUCH too small. but you managed verrry well didnt you! :))

anurag: there there, dont feel shattered - theres always lara croft!

sloganmurugan, hiren: indeed.

6:53 am  
Blogger Sridhar said...

just to help blur the lines between reality and male fantasy further

science fiction exists for that very purpose. Combined with Barbie it could be a very potent so ..

Barbie: Luke! I am your father!
Luke: Noooooooo...

and in the interests of the rest of world .. post that link i sent you ...

9:33 am  
Blogger karmic_jay said...

M..good post.Megha made the point well as did a lot of the other comments.
Everytime the issue about Barbie dolls comes up, my thought is about how Barbie's unnatural proportions could never translate to a real woman. If they ever did the person in question would be best with back, knee problems. Our skeletal structure is not just made to handle those dimensions.
As a bit of trivia - the original designer for Barbie or creator Ruth Handler passed away last year.
Some more Barbie trivia

4:42 am  
Blogger gawker said...

I wonder what kind of offspring the mating of a He-Man doll with a Barbie would result in.

7:34 am  
Blogger karmic_jay said...

gawker said...
I wonder what kind of offspring the mating of a He-Man doll with a Barbie would result in.

The resultant offspring would have -
Barbies bust, waist and Heman's muscles and shoulders?
The possibilites are endless.. the imagery unreal!

9:06 am  
Blogger m. said...

sridhar: you 'orrible man!

karmic jay: yesh, the more impossible and unhealthy it is, the more "attractive" it shall be considered.

gawker: its all your fault that i got booted last night. yours and sridhars. dad was watching rambo, and wanted to know why i was looking at stallone so thoughtfully. *shudder*!

1:14 am  
Anonymous quacko18 said...

my four year old nephew likes to undress the barbies i give his older we keep it high up on the cupboard from that nut

1:50 am  
Blogger m. said...

quacko: yipes!

7:25 pm  
Blogger Ch@ry said...

good lord! i had NO idea barbie had such a horrid history and has such a profound effect on people! thanks for pointing it out!

as for me... hmpf! i may say what i like, but all those years of conditioning have had their effect - i'm always on the look-out for a pretty face and feel inadequate whenever i see an underwear model! :-(

2:51 am  
Blogger m. said...

chary: 'lo.. welcome to the turf. yes well, we're 99% of us conditioned, but realising it helps a lot even if we cant shake it off at once :)

8:28 am  

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