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Monday, March 09, 2009

Hey, Doll!

Every year, in the run up to the day that declares me older, I wonder if I shall finally be given a prettily dressed Barbie as a present. Hasn't happened so far, but I live in hope. And have done so for the last 15 years at least.

Which is not to say I have never had a Barbie. I was given two of them, 1980s versions (Men out there, just in case you didn't know, Barbie is a brand, a legend, that is just like those cars, bikes, what have you that you covet and keep a strict eye on year after year). Long after I had outgrown the stage of playing with dolls, I'd still spend the odd Sunday afternoon lovingly washing their various outfits and going over my collection, taking a break from reading copiously. One afternoon I nearly washed out the strawberry print on this very pretty summer gown and spent the next hour feeling very sad.

As she turns 50 this year, being celebrated with a £ 20 m six-storey departmental-store of pink and crystal fabulousness, questions that go deeper than Barbie's smooth plastic skin are being asked.

One could almost write it off as new age falderal — the aggressive, vehement often acerbic tirade of this doll being the most anti-feminist icon to have ever been seen on the planet, how it is encouraging millions of little girls and women alike to aspire for an impossible figure, doing themselves much harm in the process and how we'd all benefit if it were completely obliterated.

My first reaction to this was 'Balderash!'. Except of course, one can no longer ignore such talk. Simply everything becomes subject to debate as being feminist or anti-feminist, progressive or regressive. Which is why one can almost write such talk off, almost. But not quite.

So before I jump into the discussion, let me first proclaim: It's just a DOLL. A plaything. Why is there a need to turn it into an object of such serious attitude? Sure it's very girlish, in the mien of ideas of the feminine in a patriarchal society: pink, curvaceous, charming, pretty ... but it's still a harmless object that is the source of much fun, joy and fond memories.

Having said that, I wouldn't dream of thinking Barbie as being anti-feminist or regressive or harmful to the female populace. One of the arguments for her was that since she has been just about every sort of woman one can imagine, an astronaut, doctor, veternarian, olympic participant, etc., "Barbie lets the imagination run free ... Barbie is also a brilliant role model." There are those who will say '"Career", of course, is another name for "outfit",' — Both very valid points. Although, I don't think there are many women out there (or even little girls) who decided they wanted to be in such and such profession because they saw Barbie like that. Besides, it would be really confusing considering how many careers she has changed and how fast. So, sure, she's more of a clothes prop. What's so wrong with that then? Being feminist hasn't stopped women from buying outrageously expensive, beautiful clothes, has it? Or wanting to look good?

Logically, the two have no connection. Unless you get into that argument about how all the models are stick thin and they're inspiring a generation of eating-disorder ridden women who are perpetually unaccepting of their natural selves. That still might hold some water. But to declare that a plastic plaything gives rise to the same effect is a bit much. Other real women inspiring inferiority complexes, insecurities and doubts, I can fathom. But an inanimate object? If you're letting something like that be the source of your unhappiness, or thinking it could cause such issues, then maybe you need to have your head examined. That attitude is akin to thinking donning a cape will make you a super-hero. Really. There is something inherently wrong in thinking a real-life individual equal to a fictitious character, or comparing the two. Which is what Barbie is, in the end — fictitious. And if you're going to put forth the argument of why she can't be sown in more realistic light, then let me point you towards those creations known as Russian Dolls. They're still too pretty, wait. A rag-doll then.

Barbie is certainly a feminist, however. Simple because she is every woman. Put aside her role as pilot, rockstar, cyclist, etc., aside. She is every woman out there. She has been an Indian woman in her various avtars, an Irish princess, a Maori princess ... representing 45 nationalities in total. She has successfully united women over the world in her unique way, by just being female. And isn't that feminism in its basic form?

Also, consider the fact that Barbie is not limited to the presence of a man. There is Ken, sure. But Ken is more of 'Oh yeah, Barbie's Ken' figure than being the figure of authority who defines her existence. The expression is 'Barbie and Ken', not, not 'Ken and Barbie'. Anti-feminist? Really?

And as Moira Redmond wrote, "Here are some things I defy you to imagine Barbie doing: housework; sucking up to men; cowering; being bullied or intimidated; being sexually harassed." Okay other than the housework bit, (which I don't think as being anti-feminist, it's just the victim of gender stereotyping, IMHO), if you can actually visualise the rest, something is wrong with you.

Lastly, she was created by a woman. In some measure, that makes her more believable than a similar creation dreamed up by a man wh has only the faintest idea of such a thing. And just how plausible is it that Ruth Handler sat there thinking 'Hmmm... let's see... what can I do to outrage millions of women in the decades to come? I know! Let's make this beautiful doll they will hate for being beautiful!'. Less pretty dolls would have been very popular, pity a majority of the world seems to think Barbie is better. 'sides, I'm not sure any mother out there who loved her daughter would want to put out a doll she named after her little girl if it wasn't the prettiest around. That's what it began as, really.

She's pretty. She's popular. She's rich. And the only point of her, is to have her.


  1. I always wondered why the doll was a source of such bane and disdain. If you give human feelings and frailities then anything can happen I guess.
    Like you say, its just a doll.

  2. Anonymous3:12 AM

    I totally agree... "She's just a DOLL"... and people seriously need better past times rather than hankering on the Barbie Doll.

    - Pixie

  3. Agrees completely. These's lots said against Barbie DOLL, but I choose to turn a deaf ear to all that....coz' i still love mine. ;)

  4. Definitely agree... playing with dolls is every little girl's dream and Barbie just happened to be the most coveted of those dolls and the most cherished dream!Anybody who reads more into her being, is senile, methinks!

  5. never been much into dolls...
    but i love the way barbie has been marketed. she's a brand. over and above being "just a damn doll". she has aspiration value (in terms of a DOLL only). if you can have harleys and hot wheels, why the hell not barbie?!

    she's coveted... not as a role model but as a possession.

    i'd think television or our constant need to be thinner and light-skinned were more dangerous to little girls than BARBIES!

    p.s.: makes it easy to buy you a gift now.

  6. Anonymous6:40 PM

    As a kid growing up in India, I always wanted a barbie but never got one because it was too expensive. I still lusted after it anyways, and not once did it occur to me that I have to be thin like Barbie.

    I think it is more of the environment at home and school that give rise to such ideas. Here in the US, it is thin. In India, it is fairness. I would never know that being darker was less desirable if not for the constant ribbing from relatives that I looked like the soil of my native place (clay soil, which is very dark ). For the first time, I felt like a reject, not because I was playing with a Caucasian looking doll, but because of the comments passed on me.

    We need to get our cause and effect theory right. We cannot remove the effect if we don't find the right root cause.

  7. barbie just reminds me of the stick-thin elliott reed from scrubs. although, i remember wondering why all my other dolls were round and cuddly while barbie had boobs. and the best part about a barbie gift? the accessories. very intricately crafted and life like. :)

  8. Yayyyyyy Barbie. I louvs her! My BFF and I pooled our Barbie collections together and set up a Barbie room in her guest room. It was AWESOME! :-D We used carpet samples as rugs for her and my dad's Cross and Parker pen cases as sofas. Not kidding. Meh I get tired of all the feminist twitterings abt everything. It's like everything has a hidden agenda nowadays, not just Barbies. Ignore, I say :-p One thing that rly grossed meout tho was that at one point they made a 'pregnant' Barbie where you could remove this little baby thing from her stomach and put it back in o.O It was especialli bizarre coz babies don't actually come out from the.. er... tummy... er.. you know?

  9. Now even Dora is going to go Barbie way. Stick thin. My daughter keeps getting Barbies as gift and she now started to like it too. I won't stop her from playing with but will be careful to note that she doesn't think that it's the way one should be.

  10. That is food for thought, though I can't instantly say I agree with everything you've said. I mean, yes, she is just a plaything, but there is so much that children imbibe through play that one has to be careful about about they're being given to play with.

    While we played with Barbies and did not end up thinking that that perfect figure to have was a Barbie figure, there may be little girls out there who just may be led to believe that.

  11. La vida Loca: Oh give people a chance and they'll go up in smoke about just anything!

    Pixie: Ridiculous innit?! Smartness lies in realising what to make an issue of an when to speak up... sorely lacking in these times evidently.

    Purnima: :) Which is why they still make them! For admirers like you and I :D

    Anu: Absolutely!

    Rayshma: Now how did I know you were going to say exactly that?! :D I love how she's been marketed too. You buy Barbie for my budday? :D YAY!

    Cluelessness: Very true. Cultural and social perceptions cause such problems really! You'd think they'd change for the better as the years go by, but no. They only seem to get worse! I wouldn't have known a perfect figure if it hit me when I was a child... kids these days are subject to far too much in your face shallowness in terms of material possessions and looks. I feel sorry for them.

    Galadriel: Ermm it's supposed to be the other way round I think, Eliott Reed is nicknamed Barbie :) And dude, 'stick-thin'?! Really? the term gets my goat... you know why. :) And YES, Barbie's accessories were THE BEST!!! I used them myself occasionally :D

    Pitu: OMG!!! I wish I'd had a BFF like that :D And erm... preggie Barbie?! :O Ugh!

    Solilo: Actually, Barbie's 'stick-thin' appearance is a recent thing... she used to be rather curvaceous... or proportionate, if you will. It's a nother culturally influenced change really. I'm glad you're not being okay with letting your daughter play with them ... I'm sure with someone as sensible as you for a mother she won't b worrying about having the perfect figure.

    D: The thing is D, kids do not notice things like these unless they are led to. On its own, no toy is harmful... but when other people capable of influencing the child start associating unnecessary attitudes with it, the child is bound to learn from them. Which is probably all one needs to be wary of. Could you elaborate on the things you disagree with? I'm always up for a different POV to be presented :)

  12. loooonngggg wait for ur bday, no?
    i'll buy u barbie from post x'mas sale! HAHHHAHAA!!! :D
    waste woman! u couldn't say "i want barbie" when i'd asked u? then u'd have barbie on ur desk instead of oscar! :D

  13. Sabar ka phal meetha hota hai and all that jazz :P

    And I love Oscar!!! Barbie would be a bit much for my desk... P hasn't gotten over either Oscar OR the unicorn... Barbie would send him into a fit :P

  14. ah, behold the barbaric pseudo-feminism where barred common sense has lead to barb wired everything. and reasoning has become arbitrary.

  15. Was that aimed at what I said specifically or in general and the ridiculousness we like to call 'the world'?

  16. As the male minority in this comments section, I'd just like to point out that little boys learnt a lot from Barbie too. For one, we inferred, by lifting up Barbie's skirt, that female genitalia does not exist. (This was also the case with G.I Joe figures, which makes you wonder how much more macho Gung-Ho would have been if he actually had a pair)

    Also, we picked up the nuances of aerodynamics by ripping out Barbie's head and flinging it across the room where it landed behind a heavy sofa. This pissed off the younger sister but it also gave the world the brand new Headless Horsewoman Barbie.

  17. I always knew little boys loved Barbie JUST as much as little girls did :P You'd probably be welcomed with open arms into that group of people that likes to microwave Barbies for fun. They were probably trying to introduced the 'dowry-harassed-jali-hui-bahu- version.

  18. good post.

    whatever said and done, i love that doll and even dreamed about her when i was young. i had just one barbie and remember hugging her and sleeping. I was plump then but I didn't care.

    Teenage life made me wish i was slimmer or gave me an amibiton about my career, not barbie. I had grown over her then.

  19. excuse the typos. i often do it.

  20. :) Thank you! Barbie, to most of us here, was like a friend. Someone you didn't compare yourself to but just enjoyed playing with. That's all it should be, really.

  21. With 40DD, you might expect a man had designed it (her?) ;)