So today is Barbie's 50th birthday.
Probably unsurprisingly, I'm a Barbie hater. I don't like her and I don't think she's done anything good for female body image and self worth in her 50 year run. I think she's unrealistic, damaging, and frankly kind of creepy.
But when I was a kid, I didn't. I had Barbies, I played with Barbies, I liked Barbies. I wasn't an enthusiast or a collector or anything, but I was definitely pro-Barbie. And you know, I don't feel harmed by it. When I disovered in middle school that I could cinch a belt up really tightly to make my skinny self look hourglass shaped, it was Scarlett O'Hara I was emulating, not Barbie. When I stuffed my bra at my 10th birthday party, I wasn't dressing up as Barbie, I was dressing up as Dolly Parton. I don't ever remember wishing I had a body like Barbie's, anymore than I wished I had a body like Raggedy Ann. Barbie was just...a doll.
Obviously this isn't the experience everybody had with Barbie. There's a woman who spent a half million on plastic surgery to make herself look like Barbie, and I'm sure she's not alone. So what's the difference? Why is Barbie so harmful to some women and girls and not to others? And why do I feel OK being so judgemental about the harm Barbie causes when I don't think she caused any to me?
What's most interesting to me now, on Barbie's birthday, is not her unrealistically thin and tiny-footed and big-breasted body, but the fact that she's never aged. No matter what profession Barbie takes up (doctor, pilot, etc.), she's always unlined and unblemished, firm and young. This makes sense, obviously, given her status an icon to perfect womanhood. Perfect women don't age. And at this point, her lack of gray hair or wrinkles is just about asd unrealistic as her measurements. On designboom, there is a picture of what an aged Barbie might look like, which I think is interesting. It's particularly telling that it's a headshot. Guess nobody wanted to see what gravity would do to those boobs over time.