I had three Barbie dolls when I was a child: Flower Power Barbie, Movie Star Barbie and a third ‘not really Barbie’ knock-off Barbie. I also had a Ken doll who wore a Hawaiian printed shirt and some questionably tight Bermuda shorts.
I don’t remember ever wanting to look like Barbie or be Barbie. I did however, at age 7 want to marry an ageing Greek billionaire, poison him and then run away with his young, handsome chauffeur and live off the billions my dead husband had left me. (Which is what happens when 7-year-olds are allowed to watch Dynasty.)
I have two boys, so Barbie never really made a come back into my life. When I shop for birthday gifts for my friends’ daughters and ask for suggestions on what to get, Barbie is usually listed as a big no-no. She’s deemed too frivolous to be of any good in the toy room. After all, even when Barbie decides to run for President she launches a ‘glampaign’ and has dreams of the Pink House. Computer Engineer Barbie can draw cute characters on her system but needed the ‘boys’ to help her code them in to a game.
Last week, Mattel revealed three new editions of Barbie: curvy, petite and tall, with different skin colours and hair styles. (Note that all the tall ones were still super skinny — I’d have liked one modelled on Brienne of Tarth!) It was interesting to read parents and children react to the dolls: children were more attracted to curvy Barbie’s blue hair than her new hips.
Barbie has long been accused of objectifying women and promoting an unhealthy idea of beauty, and of course, Mattel says their new dolls are a response to consumer’s demands that Barbie be more ‘real’. But with sales dipping since 2012, this seems more of cosmetic change to turn the trend.
As l read about Barbie’s new look online, I also came across a newspaper supplement that featured another makeover: Parineeti Chopra’s body transformation. There was a lot of brouhaha over the internet when this story broke some time back: some praised the actress for her new fit self, while others bemoaned how it only reinforced that ‘a body worth taking pride in had to “look” a certain way’.
I couldn’t help but look back to my own years growing up.There was no thigh gap, no balancing pennies on our collar bones or trying to hold a water bottle under our breasts.
We had Urmila Matondkar in Rangeela but also Nagma, Kushboo and Rambha on screen. I can’t recall a single conversation with my friends where we moaned about our weight and appearance. And we were by no stretch of the imagination fit girls.
So what should the Tumblr generation do? ‘Use their brains’ a friend said when we were discussing the topic. And perhaps, parents should also listen for how we talk about our own bodies in front of our children. Stop berating ourselves and our weight and our fondness for chocolate ganache cake in their presence.
It’s a small thing to start doing but one I think will have an impact on how they grow up viewing their bodies. Why give that power to a plastic doll?
(The writer is a former copywriter whose parenting philosophy is: if there’s no blood, don’t call me)