I have a confession that Aqua summarised perfectly in 1997: I’m a Barbie girl. Maybe not so much anymore, but bb Jess had all her latest luminous pink gear inc skipping rope, bike, shin pads, themed parties and sunglasses (which I dropped in a river when walking the dog and cried for at least a week #CountryBumpkinProblems) so no one was more excited at the news that Mattel had reinvented the Barbie doll than my 8 year old self. And initially Twitter seemed pretty excited too.
Gradually, as more investigating was done, people started to turn on the new dolls as not being ‘enough’, but I think before we explore the dark side we should focus on the positives (I feel a bit like the David Attenborough of doll world ngl).
It’s very easy to forget that not everyone in the world is as kick ass open-minded as us and there are still huge amounts of racism, sexism and traditional thinking still in place, so when a brand as popular as Barbie changes the skin colour and body shapes of it’s dolls, it’s pretty groundbreaking. Granted, Mattel probably did this to fit some diversity quota, but even so, one of the most iconic women on the planet actually has calf muscles now – can you believe it? Obviously, she still has a poor taste in shoes but, I feel like what she’s gained in calf makes up for the footwear faux pas. Although can we take a quick moment to question the real problem here: how did they get those dolls standing up? Because if you’re telling me there’s a way to make Barbie stand unassisted then I wouldn’t have had to limit the cast of my games by the amount of dolls I could hold at once.
Another reason I’m apprehensive to regard Mattel’s modernisation as a feminist failure is because Barbie, ignoring what she looks like, has been in virtually every profession that Jobcentre has ever advertised for so the idea that girls can achieve anything has been there from the start. There’s even a Wikipedia page dedicated to Barbie’s list of careers (who would’ve known she was such a cheeky jobs whore?) which includes everything from a pilot to a yoga teacher. Plus, despite the older Barbie films being based on traditional- and slightly dull- fairytales like The Nutcracker or Rapunzel, now we’re watching Barbie as a musketeer with knife skills that Ainsley Harriott would be in awe of, preaching about the importance of sisterhood meanwhile cantering on a 16.2 hands horse. But what I love most about this set up is that, instead of suddenly changing into jumpsuits and cutting their hair to be more ‘manly’, these gals do it all in full makeup and floor length ballgowns, proving that power and gender are unrelated.
With that said, Barbie wouldn’t have to empower girls in this way if it hadn’t left them feeling so insecure in the first place. Take her face for example, something that has remained unedited through this modernisation process, it’s just not possible- it’s awkward because I picked a picture where she’s got a fringe so it looked like me but now I realise this comparison is everything that’s wrong with the doll. If the target audience of Barbie is little girls then why is she wearing luminous pink makeup and have eyelashes longer than the new Star Wars film? I’m not saying she should have an acne problem (although that would be #relatable and I think we should start a petition for a puberty Barbie that looks as gross as we all did in 2012) but it would be much healthier to see freckles or bushy eyebrows or less cheekbone. After all, many people feel equally insecure about their face as they do their body.
Of course we also can’t ignore the new Barbie bodies because what Mattel seems to have done, and I’m sure it’s just a typo, is create a normal looking Barbie and then label it as ‘curvy’. A move which almost completely defeats the point of updating our beloved Barbara; it’s as if Mattel have thought ‘No it’s fine, we’ll make one doll that is more realistic, call it CURVY then make the rest of them, just like before, skinny enough to use as a drink stirrer’. This logic is what annoys me the most. The impossibly skinny doll is still in production meaning that any variation from that has to be followed by some unnecessary adjective like ‘petite’ or ‘curvy’ making the most realistic bodies seem like they’re the abnormal ones. There was never this much hassle over Littlest Pet Shops.
But at the end of the day, when I was younger Barbie, Disney Princesses and Bratz were all girls had to look up to- which sucks because the boys had Power Rangers, Spiderman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which I can’t type without singing the theme tune- so the fact a global brand has acknowledged they need to update and diversify, even if it’s not perfectly accomplished, has to be a much needed step in the direction of lesbian feminist utopia.