American Doll

By Laila Azmy

I watch my best friend’s little sister strip her Barbie from her hot pink mini-skirt and heels, revealing a tiny waist and large breasts below a mane of glistening blond hair. My nose wrinkles. Is this what true American beauty looks like? And how many people actually look like that? A thin, tall, blue-eyed girl standing on tiptoes just so she can wear heels? Barbie stares back at me, a smile remaining on her pink plastic lips.

In 1963, a teen Barbie was sold with a diet book that simply stated, “Don’t eat!” Even the International Journal of Eating Disorders got involved. They said that the odds of being born with a body like Barbie was 100,000 to one. In a recent tweet, @ShannaHiThere said, “If only @Barbie was also giving girls realistic body expectations.” @ShannaHiThere is right. Barbie is an example of a toy that is giving kids unrealistic ideas of what a beautiful body looks like. Real bodies are the ones we see everyday in the streets, not fake reality bound in doll form with lipstick that is pink-plastic perfection.

“Barbie was never designed to replicate the female body,” argues Michelle Chidoni, the Barbie communications head. “She was just a vehicle for play.” Still, the fact remains that Barbie’s waist is only big enough to store half a liver and a few inches of intestine, according to Glamour magazine.

Once, I was surfing the web for other thoughts on Barbie. An article popped up. Sounds good, I thought. I clicked on it. It showed a snippet of an old commercial from the 1950’s. Curious, I googled it, and got to see the whole thing. “Barbie, you’re beautiful[…] your clothes and figure look so neat[…] with all the hats and gloves galore, all the gadgets gals adore[…] I want to be just like youuuuuuu!” a muffled female voice sang. A boiling brew of unfair, unjust, stereotypical, and just plain mad fizzed inside of me, and I was shocked. Is this what people think girls should look up to? A doll with a “neat figure,” and “hats and gloves galore?” I shut the computer, and stormed out of the room. That stewing mixture in my stomach filtered through my mind and blossomed into this commentary.

I believe that girls of all diversities and body types are beautiful, and that our differences should be celebrated. Our uniqueness should be celebrated, and we should not have toys like Barbie who celebrate only one race, and one type of body.

The band Aqua clearly agrees. Their song “Barbie Girl” is like a slap in the face to Mattel, the company that makes Barbie. It made them realize that Barbie haters weren’t just a couple of irritated moms, and some offensive social media posts. “I’m a blond bimbo girl in a fantasy world, life in plastic, it’s fantastic,” is one of the verses from the popular song.

Some disagree. Some, like Jeremy Scott, love Barbie for her symbolic pop culture fashions. “I love Barbie. It’s hard not to. She’s had every job in the world, worn every outfit…” Mr. Scott gushes in the Barbie magazine. Richard Dickson, Mattel’s COO, even says that harsh  critics should embrace Barbie.

“Our brand represents female empowerment. […] Barbie had careers at a time when women were restricted to being just housewives,” he told Time magazine.

In 1993, Mattel released a Barbie that came with a talk button connected to a voice box. One of her comments was “Math class is tough.” The Barbie Liberation Organization, a group of artists and activists, blew a fuse, and said that the doll taught girls that it was more important to be pretty than smart. They secretly switched the voice boxes of GI Joe and Barbie. Children were surprised to hear Barbie yell the macho phrases of the GI Joe, including “Eat lead, Cobra!” while others unwrapped a warrior who enthusiastically said, “Let’s plan our dream wedding!”

As the years go by, people’s idea of beauty is evolving. Times are changing. Women are becoming resentful about buying Barbies for their daughters.

“I wish she was curvier,” says a mom who was surveyed by Mattel about Barbie. “There are shapes that are curvier and still beautiful.” Mattel responded this year by creating a new, better set of Barbies. Tall, petite, and curvy. Yes, you heard that right. Curvy. The 23 new dolls will have eight skin tones, 18 eye colors, 22 hairstyles, 14 facial structures,  and new outfits that better represent how girls see the women in their life. To me, this is a step in the right direction. It will help girls to really see how their world is reflected in this worldwide icon. Barbies that come in different colors, shapes, sizes, and ethnicities will forever change how people think of Barbie.

“Our decision to go on this journey to really evolve the brand was inspired by many things,” says Evelyn Mazzocco, the head of the Barbie brand. “Of course, it was inspired by softness in sales.” Time magazine’s calculations report that the doll who once made $1 billion in sales in over 150 countries, is not doing well. Barbie sales dropped 3 percent in 2012, another 6 percent in 2013, and 16 percent in 2014. “It was also driven by what we’re seeing on social media about Barbie,” she continues. “And, of course, moms who say, ‘I don’t think Barbie really speaks to me.’”

The doll has long been under sales pressure, with other companies creating newer, more modern dolls. In 2014, a doll of Elsa from the movie “Frozen” was voted the most popular girls toy. Lego is producing more girls’ toys than ever, and Bratz, a line of dolls with highlights in their hair, big eyes overshadowed with eye-shadow, and their own lip gloss are “eating Barbie’s lunch in the older girl demographic,” as Mr. Dickson  puts it.

According to Mattel, nine out of every 10 people recognize Barbie when the blond icon is put before them. Apparently, they remember how thin Barbie’s waist is, and how shiny her blond hair is. C’mon girls! Barbie is a bad role model for us; and I don’t mean the strutting kind. The new Barbie is a beacon of hope to all of us who have ever sat, miserable, at the edge of the playground, crying because we don’t have a body like Barbie. We can finally not be afraid to be proud of our body.

“We need to let girls know that no matter what shape you come in, anything is possible,” Tania Missad, the director of consumer insights at Mattel, says in a message to girls on Barbie.com.

We are all beautiful in our own unique way. That deserves to be celebrated. All of us need to be celebrated, because we are all who we are. And who we are is amazing. We all are amazing.

Laila Azmy is a sixth grader living in New York City.  In her free time, she enjoys reading and playing piano.

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