Fifty has never looked so good… or plastic

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By Corinne Love

( Desiree Perez)

By Corinne Love

She’s fifty!

No not Molly Shannon’s character from “Saturday Night Live,” but Barbie Millicent Roberts turned the big 5-0 for a week in March. Worldwide, her birthday was celebrated as fans and collectors came together to look in awe of Barbie’s fifty years of plastic domination.

No stranger to heated debate over the elusive, unattainable ideal of beauty, Barbie still polarizes groups today. At once a lauded role model for some mothers and daughters alike, and yet, a tawdry creation of plastine perfection hell bent on destroying the female youth of tomorrow.

That is a lot of feelings to place on one person, let alone a doll, a doll that barely weighs 8 ounces.

Critics, have long aimed their darts at Barbie for being something that no little girl can ever attain to looking like. First, there is the disproportionate measure of her body, I won’t bore you with the details, but it’s been said that if Barbie were to be a real woman she would simply topple over from her tiny feet.

Secondly, her bust size has always been in the public eye, Mattel in the late 90s to early 2000s reconfigured Barbie to have a more “realistic” look. They can try all they want to make her look ‘real’ but let’s be ‘realistic’; nothing that is composed of plastic with that sort of precision will ever look real.

As the critics have largely stated , Barbie’s looks are responsible for countless upon countless of young girls’ obsession with a beauty ideal that they can never attain.

I can’t speak for everyone, but growing up with many a Barbie doll, I never once looked at that towering 11.5 inches of plastic and thought “Wow! that’s exactly what I want to look like when I grow up.”

However, some girls and some women have. As evidenced by countless users who brag on their MySpace (or whatever Social network site) that they are real life “Barbies” in the flesh.

Even pint-sized rap diva Lil’Kim has jokingly referred to herself as “The black Barbie.”

Barbie is a pop culture tour-de-force.

She was created by Ruth Handler in the 50s. Handler, after observing her daughter (also named Barbie) playing with a doll noticed that her daughter would project an imaginary lifestyle onto her dolls, dressing them up and engaging in what many would call “make believe.”

The entrepreneur side of Handler quickly noticed that there were no dolls on the market that appealed to living life with glamour and fun. In the 50s’ little girls were basically playing with dolls to ‘prep’ them in a way for motherhood.

Barbie was one of the first dolls of it’s kind to basically disregard the notion of growing up to head a household.

And while people think that Barbie married Ken, it’s simply not true. According to Mattel’s press Web site “Barbie has never been married.”

This is a radical idea, furthermore, Barbie’s ex-boyfriend Ken was never her provider as some seem to think. She bought the Barbie convertible with her own means.

So how did she support herself?

Barbie reportedly did graduate from college. Then it seems contradictory that it’s been quoted of Barbie saying “Math is hard!”

This statement only supports the stereotype that women are not good at math.

She later “amended” her statement, adding that “Math is hard! but not impossible.”

Naturally, she would have to get over her ‘fear’ of math, as some of the careers that Barbie has had would entail that one would need the proper education to get there, such as a surgeon, dentist and astronaut. Yet for all her scientific background (and knack for dressing up in Versace) Barbie can’t get a break.

Jeff Elridge, a West Virginian delegate proposed banning the sales of America’s sweetheart. Elridge argues that Barbie, “and other similar dolls that promote or influence girls to place an undue importance on physical beauty to the detriment of their intellectual and emotional development.” Serious words there for a doll.

While Elride’s argument has merit that it’s unhealthy for children to think that beauty comes before brains, one should consider parental responsibility. Barbie is a doll, not a role model.

Banning Barbie just seems ridiculous and it almost seems like the first time that she’s ever experienced with “the glass ceiling.”

Aside from Barbie’s in-your-face perfection, she does teach children that despite their gender or race (there was an African American presidential candidate Barbie doll back in 2004) they should strive to reach their goals. That’s a message that most would applaud. However, people get so wrapped up in the ‘perfection’ of Barbie that it is simply overlooked.

Also, it should be mentioned, that it’s not only little girls who play with the doll, but there are serious Barbie collectors who are willing to pay a little extra for the doll clothed in a Vera Wang dress. In those cases, Barbie represents a blank slate, people are able to project whatever they want on to the canvas.

Sometimes this results in a lawsuit. Tom Forsythe an artist from Utah, almost felt the mighty wrath of Mattel’s lawyer when he was sued over some photos of Barbie cavorting lasciviously with a blender, mixer and other assorted kitchen appliances.

Forsythe won the suit, being protected by “free speech.” Mattel had to pay his lawyer’s fees. What was the knee-jerk reaction, Barbie or the blender? In the photographs there is a strong reaction, because Barbie has been made into so much more than just a doll that little girls swap clothes with. The doll has gone on to represent some pretty base ideals regarding beauty and sex. Essentially that was the context that sent Mattel’s lawyers reeling for the lawsuit.

However, Barbie is steeped in sexual undertones, the small waist, the chest—she was the first doll that sent parents raising their eyebrows. And don’t even start the whole thing about Ken missing a couple of parts.

Yet, it strikes odd, that a lot of criticism that Barbie gathers could be described as misogyny. We don’t see G.I. Joe or any other male toy being launched into the public as something that could potentially damage little boys.

G.I. Joe, the ever willing soldier, is buff and very aggressive. That toy, could be seen as perpetuating the gender role that boys should grow up to be men who want to have a six pack. Not the case.

Not all girls who play with Barbie grow up to be plastic surgery enthusiasts (for the record Barbie has had it done), some even grow up to be feminists. Because in a way, Barbie has become a feminist. Is the problem because she doesn’t necessarily look like one? Or is the problem because she’s supposed to be beautiful, caring and smart.

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