Monday, September 17, 2007

I'm NOT a Barbie Girl

Well not anymore, anyway. I did play with Barbies growing up--although back then my sister and I only had a couple dolls. There was Barbie, Julia (based on the groundbreaking black character on the eponymous show starring Diahann Carroll), Stacey and I think we had Midge, who was sort of like Skipper.

Anyway, ours was nothing like the collection of the daughter of a friend of mine. With Barbies costing less than $10 these days, some little girls get a doll or two for Christmas, Hanukkah, birthdays, Easter, President's Day...My friend's daughter had DOZENS of Barbies--there was Ariel Barbie (based on the Disney Little Mermaid character), Belle (Beauty and the Beast) Barbie, Jasmine (from Aladdin) , etc. Most of the dolls were undressed and unkempt--looking like the family dog had buried them and then dug them up. Except there was no family dog...

One day my friend's daughter wanted me to play Barbies with her. She got the Ariel Barbie and gave me the generic Ken doll. "Hey babe--would ya get me a beer?" my Ken doll said. That was the end of our Barbie game...Recently I read an article about the "shocking things" girls do to their Barbies. According to the story, "when girls outgrow their Barbie dolls, torturing them is commonplace." Hmmm, my experience is that torturing dolls is commonplace even BEFORE one outgrows them. The article goes on:

That's the peculiar conclusion researchers at Great Britain's University of Bath reached after questioning approximately 100 children about their attitudes to a range of products as part of a study on branding. "The girls we spoke to see Barbie torture as a legitimate play activity and see the torture as a 'cool' activity," Agnes Nairn, one of the researchers, told The Associated Press. "The types of mutilation are varied and creative and range from removing the hair to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving."
Microwaving? Now, that's twisted! If you go to YouTube, you can find plenty of examples of Barbie Torture Porn--Boiling Barbie, Burning Barbie, Beheading Barbie--all captured on digital video for your enjoyment. My doll mutilation experiences were limited to cutting hair. And I did give a couple of my dolls a nice henna rinse as well. According to the research, "[b]oys didn't have the same reaction to their action dolls; they felt nostalgia and affection instead." I can certainly attest to this. I remember when my parents sold the house my brother had grown up in. He was desolate. "But Mom, you can't sell the house! I buried my G.I. Joes in the backyard..." "James, you never had G.I. Joes--" "It's just an expression," he sulked.

The researchers hypothesized that the Barbie mutilation was a rite of passage--as the girls outgrew their once beloved doll and therefore rejected her. It's easy to see why girls might cease to relate to the iconic fantasy figure. While there are certainly many different kinds of Barbie dolls--Givenchy Barbie, Cher Barbie, NASCAR Barbie (although, seriously--the doll isn't wearing a racing jumpsuit--she's dressed in a hoopskirt. What the @#$% is that about?), CEO Barbie, Pet Doctor Barbie (um, we couldn't call it "Veterinarian Barbie"?), they're all basically variations on the flavor vanilla.

Mattel might want to take a page from this "Burqa Barbie"--aka Fulla, the Islamic version of the doll. While princesses and mermaids appeal to 5 year-olds, older girls might like a Barbie that better reflects who they are, or who they might grow up to be. Obviously we can't all grow up to be Fairy Princesses or fashion models...

For example, you could have an "Emo Girl" Barbie--she'd have dark bobbed hair, nerdy glasses and be wearing jeans, a Fall Out Boy t-shirt, hoodie and Converse All-Star hightops. Or perhaps "Goth Girl" Barbie, with kohl-rimmed eyes, dark lipstick, long stringy black hair and wearing an Elvira-like get-up with Doc Marten boots and a skull jewelry.

Or what about "Biker Barbie" complete with tattoos, leather jacket, miniature Harley and an optional sidecar for Ken? Or "Punk Rock" Barbie with pink mohawk, pierced nose and ripped t-shirt held together with safety pins..."Butch Barbie" could sport a mullet, flannel shirt and Timberland boots, "Wiccan Barbie" could be dressed in flowing gypsy clothes ala Stevie Nick, "White Trash" Barbie would be a bleached blonde number wearing leggings, stilettos, big hoop earrings and a low cut top. Oh wait a minute--that sounds a lot like REGULAR Barbie...

In any case, Mattel could certainly expand their market share by offering more variety of Barbie dolls. It's already difficult to relate to the wasp-waisted, big chested, perfectly coiffed and made up image that Barbie conveys. And maybe this is the real "why" of the mutilation. Perhaps we're just sick and tired of Barbie being so damned perfect...

P.S. For a different look at Barbie, you might want to check out the short film The Tribe, which is a crash course in Jewish culture as told through the history of the Barbie doll. The 18-minute film, which has won many festival awards--including Sundance and Tribeca--will be available for download from iTunes starting October 2nd. Written, directed and produced by Tiffany Shlain and narrated by Peter Coyote (E.T., Bitter Moon), The Tribe asks “What can the most successful doll on the planet show us about being Jewish today?” The short film traces the Barbie doll’s Jewish roots to shed light on what it means to be an American Jew in the 21st Century.

1 comment:

  1. .......In the other hand, if they made a Barbie that looks like avarage people Who woulod buy it? Lest not kid ourselves, nobody likes the "flaws" in regular people. You are never gonna see ( or want to see) a fatty or a person with braces in your fashion mags or in the beauty icons..