Almost every girl I know has played with a Barbie doll at some point or the other in her life and the ones who haven’t, have surely heard of the famous toy. Barbie dolls were first introduced in March 1959 by the American toy giant, Mattel, Inc. and have been a major part of the toy industry ever since. In the 60 years of their existence, Barbie dolls have had a significant influence in industries like movies, music, print and even games.
Originally targeted at teenage girls, they slowly crept into the toy collection of girls as young as 3-years-old. These children’s dolls that were supposed to be replicas of adult women opened up a new market that could now sell a variety of Barbies along with branded merchandise. For the manufacturers, it was an untapped jackpot that they had recently discovered, but for the young girls who played with these dolls and even fantasized becoming like one, not so much.
I too have been a proud owner of a bunch of Barbie dolls, including some special edition ones that came complete with kitchen & gymnastics sets, but I never realised the negative psychological effects they had on me. I even used to dance and do sing-alongs to the groovy beats of the popular ‘Barbie song,’ but the alarming nature of the lyrics never really occurred to me as a child.
So, a few weeks ago, when I was spending some time with my maternal family and heard the Barbie song as my 7-year-old cousin was listening to it, it made me think. Honestly, the first feeling that hit me was one of nostalgia but the second one was a mix of anger and annoyance. Hence, I decided to write on what I feel about the idea of Barbie dolls along with the breakdown of the ‘Barbie Girl’ song. (Technically, they aren’t related as the Barbie Dolls are owned by Mattel, Inc. whereas the popular Barbie song ‘Barbie girl by Aqua’ is owned by MCA Records.)
It’s important to acknowledge that Barbie dolls that portray an unrealistic standard of beauty and body size aren’t the best possible toys for kids.
It’s absolutely true that possessing one of these dolls as a child was a thing of pride and joy, but on the other hand, Barbie dolls can lead to a significant decrease in self-esteem and dissatisfaction with one’s body. Though the dolls have admirable looks and were created to empower girls to do what they want, according to research by Johnson & Wales University, the dolls have immensely unrealistic body proportions when compared to an average woman’s body.
With an estimated BMI of 16.24, a real-life Barbie would fit into the Anorexic category and would have to walk on all fours due to her body proportions, as per the ‘Get Real Barbie Campaign’ fact sheet. Many little girls consider these plastic dolls portrayed to be the ‘ideal’ young woman as their role models, leading to a series of serious issues that include extreme dieting habits, lack of body positivity and self-confidence. The actual effects of the doll seem to be far from the vision of its creator Ruth Handler. A typical Barbie doll is white, slim beyond reality with blonde hair and hardly any consideration for diversity in terms of bodies and beauty.
Yes, it is true that Mattel has been trying to bring out a line of diverse Barbies in terms of colour, features, body proportions and even professions, but there’s still a long road to progress. Digital artist and designer Nicolas Lamm came up with the ‘Normal Barbie’ idea and named it Lammily, which seemed to be a step in the right direction. This doll tried to represent the realistic body proportions of an average 19-year-old complete with acne, stretch marks, and other realistic skin flaws in order to show that average and realistic can be beautiful.
So, in simple terms, Barbies might not seem harmless when we’re 6-year olds but considering how our surroundings affect our development and mind, it’s important to acknowledge that Barbie dolls that portray an unrealistic standard of beauty and body size aren’t the best possible toys for kids.
As I mentioned before, Barbies influenced more than just the toy industry, so I’m not surprised that when Aqua released the ‘Barbie Girl’ song, it became an instant hit amongst youngsters and kids alike due to its Barbie connection and catchy beats. Again, when you’re a kid, you don’t understand how simple song lyrics can be extremely demeaning and sexist.
The song in question rightfully got a lot of criticism for its lyrics and I’d like to break it down for you. Also, the creepy and extremely tasteless music video of the song surely compliments the lyrics. (To be fair, it was supposed to be a social commentary music video, but honestly, it didn’t really do justice to its purpose.)
The song commences with ‘Ken’ (Barbie’s love interest) inviting her in his car to go to a party.
I’m a Barbie girl in a Barbie world
Life in plastic, it’s fantastic
You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere
Imagination, life is your creation
That’s the chorus of the song for you – which has completely ignored the concept of ‘consent’ and is certainly glorifying a fake and unrealistic life. If you’re listening to the song, you’ll be able to hear this repeatedly so there’s no escaping it.
I’m a blonde bimbo girl in a fantasy world
Dress me up, make it tight, I’m your dolly
You’re my doll, rock’n’roll, feel the glamour in pink
Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky
You can touch
You can play
If you say “I’m always yours”
Coming to the first verse of the song, I cannot even begin to fathom the message it sends across to the little girls who’ve happily danced to it. Starting with the girl merrily calling herself a ‘blonde bimbo’, a term generally used for girls not considered smart and then moving on to simply sexualising oneself. The following lines again miss the concept of consent by implying that saying something like “I’m always yours” once is enough.
Make me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please
I can act like a star, I can beg on my knees
Come jump in, bimbo friend, let us do it again
Hit the town, fool around, let’s go party
Talking of the second verse, literally every part of it is inappropriate from every possible angle. It promotes patriarchal ideas of ‘showing a woman her place’ and how women aren’t supposed to have a voice of their own, listen to men and do as they say.
Oh, I’m having so much fun!
Well, Barbie, we are just getting started
Oh, I love you, Ken
Yes, that’s how the song ends, with an “I love you” from Barbie to Ken. After all the rowdy things he said and disrespectful behaviour, clearly reinforcing the idea of verbally harassing her till she ‘loves’ him.
I would just like to conclude and say that toys aren’t just toys, they can play a vital role in a child’s development and thinking. So, instead of giving a child a Barbie doll with unrealistic notions of beauty, try giving them some games that’ll help them grow and evolve and dolls which portray diversified beauty.
Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: Pinterest