Barbie and Representation

Mattel recently revealed what they’re calling “The Evolution of Barbie”. It includes three new body types (along with new hair and eye colors, and funky new hairstyles) that will sell along side the original doll. These body types are curvy, petite, and tall.

I love Barbie. I had about 30 of them when I was little. Most of them were the white, blue eyed, blonde Barbie. I had a few brunettes, one Teresa (she was the Hispanic Barbie), and the Puerto Rican Barbie which was part of the Dolls of the World collection.

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(image is of two dolls. Both dolls are brunettes. The doll on the left is the Happy Birthday Barbie doll. She is wearing a pink and white ball gown with balloons and ribbons print. She has a party hat on her head. The doll on the right is wearing a pink and white dress. She has a pink flower in her hair. She is the Puerto Rican doll.)

When I was little, I hated my big nose and my huge curly hair. White skin was prized and I was always told it was a good thing I wasn’t darker. It wasn’t until recently that I started appreciating my natural hair. My mother was constantly buying hair straightening cream “para matar el rizo” (kill the curl).
I always liked the brunette and darker skin dolls best but I was always given white Barbie. So I would take my mother’s brown eye shadows, crush it and mix it with water and dunk my blonde Barbies hair in. It lasted until I decided to wash my dolls.

I got the message that my natural hair wasn’t beautiful. I was always told I was too fat. I would hear people say girls looked like a Barbie if they were thin, white and pretty. I would never be a Barbie. But I could pretend. My Barbies had fantastic adventures. They were singers, cops, teachers, spies, feminist bad asses who didn’t need Ken. Although that was mostly because I only had one Ken. So that Ken played different characters, while my Barbies had different names and personalities, I still remember most of their names.

My Barbies provided me an escape from my unhappy childhood.

It’s a little tough being a feminist and a huge Barbie fan. For a while I thought I was a bad feminist for loving Barbie. I didn’t realize I could appreciate Barbie but also critique her shortcomings. I was also hesitant to apply any critical thought to Barbie because I was worried it would tarnish my childhood memories of her.

Once I had a daughter, I realized I needed to look at Barbie (and all other media directed towards her) critically. My daughter doesn’t look like Barbie, and she never will. That is ok. That’s what I need to hear when I was little. Barbie was an unrealistic standard. I didn’t need to look like her to have worth and be loved.
Barbie didn’t make me have self-esteem issues. It was the adults around me with fat-phobia, anti-blackness and colorism who caused my self-esteem problems.
My daughter knows that her curls are beautiful. That her light skin doesn’t make her any better than someone darker.

Barbie has been pretty good in showing racial diversity. I always could say Teresa was “for me” but never “she looks like me” because Teresa was thin.

Having a fashion doll who’s curvy is a huge deal. Not only will chubby girls finally see themselves in a doll, but they’re also getting the message that they too can be fashion forward and fun.

Curvy Barbie is not without her problems. She could be bigger. Her figure is the “acceptable fat”; an hourglass shape. That’s a problem plus-size modeling and the body positivity movement have as well. But, I’m glad that Curvy Barbie is here. It’s a step in the right direction. Curvy Barbie is the doll I wished would have existed when I was little. Needless to say, my inner child is excited for this.

I’ve posted a review of Curvy and Tall Barbie! Click on links to read them!

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