Naomi Law explains
When I was seven years old, I ripped the wrapping off my Christmas present to find the limited edition Barbie Space Astronaut doll. The following days were spent with the petite figurine as a permanent fixture in my hand. I was constantly changing the outfits and braiding the hair of my new plastic companion. Until I cut it all off with toenail scissors, snapped off her legs and glued them back on back to front, and flushed her down the toilet.
Body positivity movements have been emerging over recent years as global phenomena, with Barbie becoming an archetype of the unattainable beauty standards imposed upon the average woman. Mattel’s release of a new, inclusive line of dolls, including a range of body types and skin colours, has been deemed a revolutionary turn of the century for women everywhere.
I know that my seven year old self would’ve adored welcoming this new range of girls to my collection, however, mostly because I got so bored of Ken dating the same girl for more than five days. But to me, Barbie was never a defining factor in the woman I attained to be. I loved Barbie for the extravagant places she traveled to, the careers she explored and the stories she enabled my imagination to create. Barbie was a canvas, used by my younger self to create and visualise a certain future I longed to achieve. At no point did it occur to me that because Barbie had a tiny waist, I needed one too.
Whilst I believe that our celebration of the evolution of this iconic doll is premature, I do agree that these new dolls cannot worsen a female self esteem already crippled in the claws of 21st century media. From a young age a girl’s self-worth is swarmed by messages connoting that ‘pretty’ is the most important thing for a girl to be, evidenced by girls as young as 7 reporting dieting. This ideal plagues women throughout their adolescent life, with 50% of teenage girls using unhealthy weight control behaviours such as skipping meals, vomiting, and taking laxatives to control their weight. This societal bias towards ‘attractiveness’ materialises at the beginning of adult life. Surveys carried out among members of the public suggest that 9 out of 10 people implicitly assume that women with an unusual appearance will be disadvantaged throughout life. Attractiveness biases have been demonstrated in circumstances such as voter preferences for political candidates, teachers’ judgments of students, and employability.
This left me questioning, is there actually much hope for the future of a young girl who does not fit the ‘Barbie image’? In a world afflicted with generic conformity, young girls do not only become internally affected by crushing self esteem issues, but they must cope with the external world turning against them. It appears that even though we complain about Barbie, she is what we want and she is what we want our leaders, colleagues and neighbours to look like.
So why do I not think that the reveal of “Curvy” Barbie should be greeted as a milestone in redefining female ideals? Whilst my behaviour of mutilating and drowning my Barbie for mild entertainment may not scream stable childhood, I was raised by a mother who taught me that ‘fat’ is not the worst thing a woman could be. Positive females surrounded me and taught me that intelligence, determination and resilience in the face of adversity are more important qualities to develop than ‘skinny’.
Conventionally attractive females earn approximately 10% more than plain individuals. In this kind of reality, the prospects for a girl who does not fit the physical norm appear dim. But maybe, it’s not the media that needs changing, but instead the way that we, as women, think about the media. We cannot continue to look to magazine images to achieve a sense of validation and self-worth. I believe that I have a successful future, merited not by my looks but by my talents, because I am choosing to create it. My sense of self-worth did not come from looking at a Barbie doll or a model, but from overcoming obstacles and pushing myself to become better.
The head of the Barbie brand, Evelyn Mazzocco, reported in TIME Magazine that she “routinely receives hate mail and death threats over Barbie’s body”. We need to stop blaming the media for our self esteem issues and accept that the only way our perception of beauty will change is if we stop looking at Victoria’s Secret models and we stop allowing ourselves to think we are worthless because we do not have tiny thighs. Now let’s back off of Barbie and let her do what she does best: shop and kiss Ken.
As women, if we want our future success to be defined by our intelligence and achievement, we need to change the things we strive to achieve.
Featured image courtesy of Pixabay