From a young age I witnessed countless glass ceilings not just being shattered, but being obliterated by Barbie, instilling a sense of ambition in me that I still have to this day.
While on the playground, I never considered the limitations of gender roles/norms when I would proclaim to my classmates that I wanted to be an astronaut, or the president. Barbie had a C.V. bursting with experience in every career path your six year old imagination can possibly fathom. If Barbie was an astronaut – I could be too. Do I want to be a ballerina? An astrophysicist? Barbie says you can do whatever the f*ck you want!
Barbie has gotten a pretty hard time over the years from various feminist critics. Most of the criticism centres around her tiny waistline and the overuse of fluffy pink imagery when advertising her. Her thin waist, big breasts and long legs are a reflection of what is traditionally seen as beautiful. However, in defense of Barbie, studies show that children are more likely to pick up a bad body image from their mothers rather than from their doll. Nevertheless, Mattel have taken some of the criticism made by third-wave feminists on board, and Barbies are now available in curvy, tall, and petite. More women of colour are being represented within the franchise too, which is a fantastic step forward as we dismantle the cultural norm of the white, blonde, model-like woman being the ideal embodiment of femininity.
Even as a child, I understood that Barbie was a doll; not a real woman, but a representation of a woman (albeit a thin one). I never recall thinking ‘wow, I’d love to have boobs like Barbie’s when I grow up’, because even as a child I understood that she did not accurately represent a real woman. The real women I was surrounded by when growing up were what I aspired to look like; not the plastic doll with hollow eyes, hard plastic breasts and legs that didn’t bend. It’s not only Barbie fans who played with a doll who portrays an unrealistic representation of the human body; remember He-Man? Much in the same way violent games are condemned as a progenitor of aggressive behaviour later on in life, Barbie has gotten flack for encouraging eating disorders. In my opinion, if you have a bit of common sense, regardless of your age, you’ll understand the difference between fiction and reality; representation and actuality.
Barbie’s resemblance of a woman is actually pretty iconic. Traditionally baby-dolls were a favourite among little girls, however when Barbie arrived on the scene in 1959, she redefined play-time. No longer were little girls acting out traditional gender roles centered around the domestic sphere; with Barbie they learned that they can do what they want with no regard for gender norms. Barbie taught them that a girl’s worth is not limited to the kitchen. And for me, this is the apex of feminist thought.As for the critique of the colour pink being used in her advertisements, I would ask you ‘why not pink?’ For me, feminism is about equality and liberation. If her favourite colour is pink, so what? We should not shame feminine feminists. I shave my armpits, I have never burned a bra and I like floral pattern dresses. That does not make me any less of a feminist. Why? Because I have the choice to be feminine, or the choice to be a tom-boy, or to be anything in between. I won’t be shunned by society for showcasing my (many) ‘unladylike’ traits.
She’s had every career you can think of, and Barbie’s debut (just before second wave feminism gained momentum) brought the little girl’s playtime outside of the domestic sphere and into the professional world. Barbie says f*ck your gender roles and ‘so what if I like pink? I’m still badass’.
Credit for images used (by order of appearance)