(Photo by Mark Lennihan/AP)
Ready to get in touch with your inner Barbie?
After all, she is the original career girl. Since her debut in 1959, Barbie has had about 150 careers. She’s been a nurse, doctor, fire fighter, stewardess (much friskier sounding than “flight attendant”—no?), and, of course, lawyer. So maybe it’s plain sexism that people keep picking on her about her looks.
She’s now 55—and this gal is finally fighting back! After being labeled for decades as the B-a-a-d Role Model for little girls, Barbie is telling the world where to stick it.
In fact, Barbie is gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated’s famous swimsuit issue this year, and she’s “unapologetic” about her (market) place in the world. Mattel’s press release, which reminds us she’s worth $3 billion, says:
As a legend herself, and under criticism about her body and how she looks, posing in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done, and be #unapologetic.
And guess what? Some women are rallying behind Barbie. Charlotte Alter reminds us in Time that “Barbie has worked every second of every day since she was invented in 1959,” and has probably “broken more glass ceilings than Sheryl Sandberg.” Besides representing “beauty and materialism,” writes Alter, Barbie “also represents mutability, imagination and professional possibilities.” What’s more, “Barbie knows how to ask for a promotion.”
Of course, this new Barbie is also reviving lots of negative commentary. In the Mommyish blog, the title of a recent post sums up the prevailing criticism: “The Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Will Feature Barbie, So Your Daughter Can Feel Bad Too.” And Amanda Marcotte writes in Slate:
Mattel is pre-emptively telling mothers, feminists, and feminists who are mothers to screw off if they think Barbie sends troubling body-image messages to young girls.
Harsh words, but we’ve been here before. Let’s take a pause and remind ourselves of the obvious: We’re talking about a plastic doll that’s about 12 inches tall. So get a grip.
Maybe I’m in denial, but I don’t think my self-image has suffered because I once played with a Barbie. (Don’t worry, I have loads of insecurities; bearing no resemblance to Barbie just isn’t one of them.)
Still, are we ready for Barbie, the feminist icon? It’s so kooky and perverse that I find it appealing. I suppose she has lived all our fantasy careers. She’s dabbled in so many diverse endeavors—from pom-pom girl to brain surgeon—that she should be reincarnated as the Hindu goddess Kali with 10 arms dipping into life’s possibilities (only if Barbie’s arms weren’t so stiff!).
Plus, aren’t you impressed that Barbie never let Ken eclipse her personally or professionally? In fact, Ken has always been her foil—a handy piece of arm candy when she needed an escort. She might have stepped down the aisle with Ken a few times (wedding dress styles do change, you know), but she never morphed into a boring housewife. Nor did Barbie turn into some scary mommy, wiping spit off her chic outfits.
And didn’t she live fabulously? If I recall correctly, she owned a dream house, a beach cottage, a ski chalet—which, as far as I know, she owned all by herself, without help from Ken or some Sugar Daddy.
So maybe Barbie was ahead of her time. Which only proves that if you make yourself a nuisance long enough, sooner or later you’ll get respect.
Hang in there, gals!
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