Or why Barbie is a cultural martyr.
I was mowing the grass this past weekend when I came upon the scene of the crime. A mud spattered naked plastic woman, her body prone on the grass, her decapitated head supine. My reaction was one I have had often over the years.
“Oh really? What the hell?! Do you kids know how much these cost?!” I quickly looked around for children to yell at. None present at the crime scene. I estimate the body had been there for a week. If I called the police, Ken would have had a lot of explaining to do. I’m sure my children would be great material witnesses.
Barbie’s have been a part of my life for many years. Long before I had daughters who would beg me to buy them one, and throw a fit when their sister (or brother) took theirs. Finding one decapitated and discarded wasn’t really a shock as much as it was an annoyance. Then again, Barbie’s heads don’t just ‘pop on’ anymore like they did when I was a kid.
When I was young, my favorite playmates were my niece and nephew. Both were in my age bracket, being that my niece was just 2 younger than me, my nephew 4 years younger. The three of us would play with my nieces Barbie’s. Join with my nephew and I’s G.I. Joe’s who, back then, were the same size. Inevitably these creative play dates would turn to rivalries and my nieces Barbie’s would suffer the consequences. It never ended well for my nephew and I. Usually we would get in trouble for putting G.I. Joe’s head on Barbie bodies, snickering as we handed them back to my niece. This and other devious plots, would irritate my niece enough to place a call, in the form of a scream, to my Mother and Sister. Luckily, for my niece, she soon got a sister to play with, and could then ignore us boys.
I grew up with Barbie’s, and when I became a man I was still fascinated by that impish smile of hers, her stand out eyes, and perfectly contoured figure. So, I of course, sought out the same in women.
Which of course is an utter lie.
Nor did my nieces, or my daughters, for that matter, ever want to be Barbie. They may have wanted to be what she was career or imagination wise, but not her.
Barbie was created in 1959 by Ruth Handler, she has had approximately 130 careers in her ‘lifetime’. Has done almost anything a little girl could possibly image.
Then again I have seen Barbie do some amazing things over the years. She has cast spells, vanquished monsters, sang at talent shows and even explored the vast depths of the bathtub. Once she even climbed to the top of the roof. Took a ladder to get her down. I will say that Barbie and her friend Barbie should never have ridden in the back of my pick up truck to work. Who knows what they did back there unbelted and sitting in my truck bed. Although it did make two little girls very giggly.
Barbie has gotten a bad rap as of late. Ironically it’s an old rap that comes up now and again. The concept that she is a bad influence and shows girls an unrealistic view of what they should look like. Sorry I don’t buy that. Here’s why.
Years ago I worked in the printing industry, I worked on a computer system that was the precursor to Photoshop. I edited images of all sorts, twisting reality to the advertisers desire. From taking a photo of heavy construction equipment, shot in a garage, and putting it in a work zone setting, to making a green eye woman have the most startling blue eyes. I did a fair amount of work altering what models looked like. Photography is nice, but electronic editing makes it sell.
Then came the day I bumped into two teenage girls in a grocery store fawning over a cover picture I had actually worked on. I listened to them say how much they wanted to be just like her (it was a photo of a movie star) and how perfect she was. I did the bold thing and interrupted them. I pointed out all the work I had done to this movie star to make her perfect and flawless. They were both fascinated and shocked. Electronic photo editing was in its infancy back then, so the idea that this photo wasn’t ‘real’ was new to them. Yet those two teenage girls walked away knowing that perfection in the advertising industry is an illusion.
Do I fault the advertisers? No, they are selling a product, in this case a magazine. They have to compete with hundreds of other magazines, so they need images to stand out. Just like it was more economical for the heavy construction equipment to have their photo shoot in a well-lit garage and have the outside environment added.
Do I blame the actress for not being flawless? No, she’s human. The picture I worked on was probably after the poor woman having to sit for two or more hours as the photographer took hundreds of pictures. So she had to endure fans blowing her hair, bright lights blinding her eyes and countless touch ups of make-up. Her eyes being red, hair a little messy, and the touch of crows feet are normal. Flawless was my creation. It was what I was paid to do.
So how does Photoshop image of an actress relate to Barbie? Glad you asked.
Because in both cases these are unrealistic depictions of woman. One is a doll created for children’s entertainment. The other is a person whose altered photograph is used to sell a product. Neither is real. Both have been targets of those who think we are damaging little girls minds into believing they must look like this or that. And counter argument that it’s just ‘fine’ and girls know the difference.
I’ve had to have these fights, these arguments with my older daughters as they felt the pressures from society that they must conform to what society thinks is ‘perfect’. Young girls are assault daily with images and ads as to what they could do or buy to make them perfect and thus happy. The beauty lies within argument only goes so far.
Of course when it comes to advertisement I have a leg up on most parents. I did it for a living, so I know the ins and outs. I could counter my two older daughters desire to be just like *pick a pop star* and let them know they were just as human as they are. Yet not once in those teenage years did my daughters hold up a Barbie Doll and tell me they wanted to look just like her.
So while I can say that media, in all of its forms can be maddening for a teenage girl or boy for that matter, I have to disagree that Barbie is warping young minds. Especially when I find one lying naked, headless, in my backyard. Not too sure who aspires to be like that. Or naked with only one shoe on 90% of the time.
The Barbie, naked, muddy, decapitated is still annoying. As with those painted with sharpies, or those whose hair has been cut short, or whose dress is now sleeveless because, well, it’s summer. This is a monetary thing for a parent. It also is proper respect for your belongings. Or your sisters belongings. I suspect that my son Nick is a hitman for Ken. I’ll have to talk to him about this in the near future. Not a good career choice.
If I had to take a guess, I would suspect, that if that poor Barbie could talk, she would tell me of the wonderful adventure she had, prior to her untimely demise. It is possible she was on a secret mission for the King and was attacked by a dragon. Or maybe she was a spy that was uncovered. Trust me, there is a story there. There always is.
Barbie is a cultural icon. She has been around longer than me. Yet in that time she has been on millions, if not billions of adventures. 130 careers? I don’t think so. She has done more than that. Much more. She gives children, yes even little boys, a way to express their imagination in ways children before Barbie’s came along could not fathom.
So maybe it is a little too early to melt Barbie at the stake. We may want to give the old gal a break and let the next generation of little girls and boys just Play Barbie’s. She may be an unrealistic image of a woman’s body, yet she is also a vehicle to explore the vast world of imagination.
You can find more about Barbie at http://barbie.mattel.com/shop
[KidZond in no way endorses any product. The product mention in this blog is for entertainment purposes only. And yes, I have played Barbie’s, and still do to this day upon request.]