Barbie "Writes" Feminist Essay, But I'm Not Buying It

PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 09: Barbie dolls are displayed during the exhibition 'Barbie, life of an icon' at the Museum of Decorative Arts as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2016/2017 on March 9, 2016 in Paris, France. More than 700 Barbie dolls are displayed during the exhibition which takes place from March 10 to September 18, 2016. (Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)
Source: Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Barbie has put out a press release! Or whatever we want to call her new "essay," which appears on official Mattel website BarbieCollector.com, defending her recent appearance in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. In this essay, Barbie "writes" about how she is more than a pretty face, how little girls should be allowed to aspire to any career they want, how "pink is not the problem," and how models are not objects or idiots just because of how they make a living. It's a little disturbing to find yourself agreeing with things "written" by Barbie, but the whole essay is pretty feminist. But that doesn't make Barbie any less of a problem.

The thing is that little girls should want to grow up to be anything they want: models, president, a pastry chef, or any of the other 150 careers Barbie is rightly proud of (great, and now I'm talking about her like she's real, too). But little girls shouldn't want to grow up to be Barbie. And that's where the trouble starts.

People have talked to death about Barbie's body, which is not only unrealistic but downright impossible, to the point of being deformed. If Barbie were real, her body mass index would be well below healthy, and she would have to walk on all fours because her proportions are so out of whack. She promotes a body image ideal which is downright harmful to any child who internalizes it. Comparing her to a model of an average 19-year-old it's clear how messed up the Barbie idea of beauty is.

Barbie promotes a particular type of femininity. And while there isn't anything wrong with women who embody this version of womanhood, it's a problem to promote it at the exclusion of all others. Barbie is not only thin, but she is also wearing make-up. She always has that perfect, shiny hair – at least when she comes out of the box. And she absolutely always has a smile. "Be whatever you want," she says, "just also be beautiful, always care about your appearance, and always be cheerful."

And, I'm sorry, Barbie can say "pink is not the problem," but pink is a big fucking problem. Not because of the color itself but because of the fact that Mattel hasn't seemed to realize that the rest of the color palette isn't a problem, either. Barbie aisles in the toy store are a sea of pink. And all of this primes girls to believe that they belong in a world of pink, and all the stereotypes that comes with. Giving girls an overwhelming amount of pink is limiting as all get out. 

I agree that a woman should not be "judged by how she dresses, even if it’s in heels," that models are definitely not "poseable plaything with nothing to say," and especially that girls "should celebrate who they are and never have to apologize for it." But girls will never be Barbie, in any sense. To say that Barbie isn't human goes well beyond being made of plastic.

Where are the toys that don't push an outdated idea of perfection of young girls? Where are the toys that teach young girls they don't have to be beautiful? Where are the toys that show girls women who aren't thin and perfectly made-up also achieve their dreams? Where are the toys that teach girls that long, shapely, bare legs are not a requirement ever, but especially not if you happen to be a surgeon

Where are the toys that tell girls they can be angry or sad or determined or brave or scared? Where are the toys to let girls know they can feel whatever they happen to feel without also feeling guilty for not being cheery and upbeat?

Where are the toys that teach girls they can be dangerous – dangerously smart, dangerously ambitious, dangerously independent, dangerously uninterested in the things they are supposed to care about.

I don't know where those toys are, but I do know that they aren't Barbie. And all the essays in the world won't change that. 



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