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Barbie Has Feelings, Too

February 17, 2014  |  11:00am
Barbie Has Feelings, Too

_Image via Flickr User Tracheotomy_Bob_

Do dolls psychologically harm children with their unrealistic attributes, or are adults going too far in forcing toys to be role models?

In an interview with fastcodesign.com, Mattel’s vice president of Barbie design offers some perspective on the long- boiling public disapproval of the physically impossible proportions of the playtime icon.

“Barbie’s body was never designed to be realistic. She was designed for girls to easily dress and undress.” says Kim Culmone. “Primarily it’s for function for the little girl, for real life fabrics to be able to be turned and sewn, and have the outfit still fall properly on her body.” She adds, “But we’re constantly working on new sculpts, new bodies, it’s a continual evolution for us.”

Culmone points out the tradition of sharing toys and accessories from generation to generation, “This is a 55-year-old brand where moms are handing clothes down to their daughters, and so keeping the integrity of that is really important.”

This is a sensitive subject, complicated by conflicting opinions that outnumber the pieces in Barbie’s entire wardrobe. On one side there is a reasonable opinion that children have a view of the world that’s happily a million miles away from baggage- heavy adults. At the same time, the amount of scholarly research into the negative effects of Barbie’s body on impressionable little girls is massive and well-documented. One single toy line is the scapegoat and fall-girl for the modern health crisis of body image issues. And you thought Pinocchio had it tough in the circus.

For decades a never-ending argument has roared over Barbie’s appearance. The girl simply can’t catch a break. One unpleasant ghost from Barbie’s past, often pointed to as damning evidence, is the Barbie Baby-Sits doll of 1963, which included a tiny book called How To Lose Weight, which actually read in tiny letters: “Don’t eat!”

This unsettling item didn’t just slip past production managers, it was also added to the 1965 Barbie Slumber Party edition. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Slumber Party Barbie also came with a miniature bathroom scale displaying the fixed number of one-hundred and ten pounds. Measured proportionately to human size, Barbie’s height is around five-foot-nine, which in turn makes her bathroom scale reading thirty-five pounds underweight. Not a proud moment in toy history.

To be fair, in 1997 Mattel widened Barbie’s waistline. Despite this band-aid, the major scandals in Barbie’s past are so widespread and convoluted it’s shocking; involving nipples, racial sensitivity, outrageous phrases (like the infamous “Math class is tough!” from 1992’s Teen Talk Barbie), wheelchair access, lower- back tattoos and even popular cookie brands. Behind her resilient smile, Barbie has not remained unscathed through it all.

Doctor Agnes Nairn of England’s University of Bath presented research in 2005 explaining how young girls have a phase of mutilating and destroying their Barbie dolls including chopping the dolls heads off and nuking them in microwave ovens. The Soundgarden music video for “Black Hole Sun” showed a happy little girl melting a flaming Barbie on a backyard barbecue grill. Dr. Nairn reported “It’s as though disavowing Barbie is a rite of passage and a rejection of their past.”

Do we level the same criticisms at toys based on monsters and mutants? Does Barbie get picked on because she’s an easy target? Most, if not all male action figures have ripped bodies with bulging, chiseled muscles and six-pack washboard abs as standard molds. Spiderman and Batman never get blamed for turning little boys into steroid-shooting bodybuilders.

Barbie cruises her pink convertible on dangerous ground. The potential for violence of angry parents should never be underestimated. Unlucky toys have been massacred mercilessly in the past. Remember the Garbage Pail Kids? Technically, they weren’t even toys, they were trading cards, but they suffered the fate of total annihilation at the height of their fame.

Tucked away inside a well-decorated mansion in Toy Land, Barbie is reading inspirational quotes on her smartphone, comforted by the fact that Haters Gonna Hate, and all she needs to do is Keep Calm and Barbie On.

via Fast Company

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