I grew up playing with Barbie dolls in the 70’s. I had it all: the furniture, the house, the RV, and the pink Corvette. Lots of Barbie friends, and boxes of clothing and accessories. In fact, my goal was to someday have the lifestyle that my Barbie had.
Today, my daughters play with Barbie dolls. But I’ve noticed some changes in the blonde bombshell that I’m less than enthusiastic about.
True, since her 1959 debut, Barbie has had about 125 careers or occupations, including aerobics instructor, U.S. army officer, astronaut, veterinarian, McDonald’s cashier and ballerina. She is a great toy for little girls to fantasize being anything they want to be. But lately, I’ve been wondering what exactly Mattel is trying to inspire girls to be.
Besides the obvious physical anomalies, which would cause Barbie to be 5’9″ tall, with a 36″ chest, 18″ waist and 33″ hips and missing about 20% the body fat required to menstruate, Mattel has made a few marketing blunders. Among these:
– Teen Talk Barbie, in 1992, featured a doll that spoke various phrases, including “I love shopping!” and “Math class is tough!”. Mattel has always claimed Barbie could be a positive role model for girls. Perhaps they meant for girls aspiring to marry rich.
– Oreo Fun Barbie in 1997, a cross-promotion with Nabisco, was criticized because in the African American community, Oreo is used as a derogatory term, meaning you’re “black on the outside, but white on the inside”.
– Totally Tattoos Barbie, in 2009, featured a series of tattoos that girls could apply to Barbie, including a lower-back tattoo. I mean, what if things don’t work out with Ken? Will Mattel throw in laser tattoo removal as part of the divorce settlement?
As a girl, my Barbie accessories ranged from fun to glamorous. Today, it seems challenging to find anything for Barbie that doesn’t scream “I charge by the hour”. I’ve been to various toy stores. I searched online on sites including Barbie and Toys R Us. In fact, I think Mattel is encouraging girls to think “sexy” at a premature, inappropriate time — shorts that barely cover Barbie’s ass, shirts that she shouldn’t bend over with in public, and outfits that look just plain sexually provocative.
I thought my point would be better illustrated by using examples of Barbie merchandise I found on the Barbie and Toys R Us web sites, and playing a little game called Name that Barbie:
1. Frat Party Barbie — complete with Daisy Dukes, easy-to-remove top, and Jell-o shots. Promotion: Purchase Frat Party Keg and get Tipsy Tina for real cheap.
Frat Party Barbie
2. Escort Barbie — includes cheap faux-chic ensemble, black boa, stiletto heals and matching purse perfect for carrying condoms. Barbie’s all about safety!
3. Mile-High Club Barbie — from the skin-tight teaser uniform to the f#@k me boots. Bonus handcuffs inside luggage.
Mile-High Club Barbie
4. Poolside Fling Barbie — comes with, evidently, very little material and Barbie’s own cabana boy
Poolside Fling Barbie
5. Little Black Dress Cougar Barbies — Can be sold separately, but usually sold as a pair of aggressive, slightly used dolls
My point is that Barbie is moving beyond the merely flimsy onto the full-blown skanky. Just in case I haven’t illustrated my point, here’s one more item, taken online from Toys R Us. They call it “Premium Pink House furniture”; I call it Barbie’s venture into adult films.
Am I the only one here who sees the inappropriateness of some of the available toys? And yet Mattel has launched an “I can be” Academy, meant to inspire girls by putting on display all the careers Barbie has held. There’s a great article in the Ottawa Citizen explaining the Academy and how it highlights Barbie as a positive role model. Girls can even design their own engagement rings, cakes and wedding dresses. They can walk down a pink carpet and receive a diploma from Barbie herself. Now there’s one to add to your CV.
They say the goal of the campaign is to empower girls. Just seems oddly self-contradictory with the other messages they’re sending.