Barbie’s back with a new look and style. But will it make a difference? Barbara L. Roose looks at what this could mean for the iconic doll and little girls’ ideas of beauty.
As a kid, my friend knew never to call me “Barbie.” In fact, anyone who did call me by that horrible name got a push or a shove in reply. While I shared a similar name to the celebrated doll, I spent my childhood burdened by the fact that I didn’t look anything like the Barbie dolls I played with each day.
I’ve lived my life in the shadow of that manufactured creature known for her flawless perfection and radiant beauty. Little girls everywhere adored the 11 ½” plastic doll with creamy white skin, anatomically impossible skinny waist, long blonde hair, freakishly long eye lashes and an enviable arched foot. With her perfect smile and innocent gaze, Barbie taunted me during my childhood.
As an adult, I know that just because I share a name with Barbie, that doesn’t mean that I should look like her. But, decades ago, that little brown-skinned me with pop-bottle glasses and two-large front teeth didn’t know any better. So, I would stare at my perfect, blond Barbie doll and feel less than.
During playtime, my cousins and I would dress our Barbie dolls in those luxurious, shiny gowns with the Velcro zippers and plastic stiletto heels. We dreamed that our superfly-looking dolls had high-paying jobs and lived in the palatial Barbie Mansion. Our Barbies did have Ken for a husband, but we didn’t actually have the money to buy Ken, so we always said that he was out of town.
Barbara, you don’t look like Barbie…
At some point while we played, one of the cousins or friends would point out the obvious: I didn’t look like Barbie, even though my name was Barbara. And I would nod my head and agree. I was a little girl with a big name who didn’t look anything like the beautiful doll resting in her hand.
So, a particular narrative began to take shape in my little girl mind: “Since I don’t look like the pretty Barbie dolls, then I cannot be pretty. If I am not pretty, then I should not dream of all of the things that pretty little girls should dream about.”
For years, I pretended not to care about the fact that I wasn’t pretty because I didn’t look like those Barbie dolls. I decided to be smart instead. And I was. I wore my glasses and I made good grades.
But, I wanted to feel beautiful. Like Barbie.
Recently, Mattel announced the biggest change in Barbie’s 57-year history. After a half-century of predominately blond-hair, blue eye dolls, Barbie’s back . . . it might even be appropriate to say that in some cases, Barbie’s got back.
Now, Barbie will come with three different body types: petite, tall and curvy. Not only that, but curvy Barbie will truly be curvy with a little tummy in the front and a little junk in the trunk. And, when you see the side-by-side comparison of original Barbie and curvy Barbie, it’s shocking!
But, will it actually translate as a positive step to improving little girls’ self-image? What happens when a little girl has a skinny Barbie and a curvy Barbie, yet only has clothes for skinny Barbie? Mattel is actually setting up a call line to help parents navigate some of the new complexities of dressing curvy Barbie. Sometimes, her clothes don’t slide easily over her hips and thighs. Talk about art imitating life!
There are concerns that “curvy” Barbie might end up being branded as “fat” Barbie, creating some potentially awkward moments at Christmas or at birthday parties. Will a little girl want to receive curvy Barbie, even if she’s a curvy little girl? It will be interesting to see how parents and Mattel navigate this issue. Is it possible that for us to teach our kids how to do this even if we haven’t figure it out yet?
Yet, for all of the questions about the new line of Barbie dolls, I applaud Mattel for doing something! While previous generations of women sort through what I like to call our “Barbie baggage,” I’m thrilled that today’s young girls have a choice about the kind of Barbie they want to play and dream with each day.
As for me, I made peace with sharing Barbie’s name years ago. In fact, I’ve learned how to embrace it and have fun with it.
These days, my social media hashtag is #TallbrownBarbie.