Over the decades since Barbie has made her debut, she has taken on many themes to reflect the diversity of her adoring fans as well as the movement of her time. Working Barbie, black Barbie, tomboy Barbie…you name it. And this week, to add to the growing list of Barbie makeovers, Mattel announced they are producing a bald Barbie for children who have lost their hair because of cancer or other illnesses.
While this move marks the first time Mattel is actually removing one of Barbie’s key features in order to make the doll familiar to a large demographic, I am unmoved by the seemingly noble effort. And the fact that there was a whole Facebook effort by every day moms that helped make this a reality is even more disturbing.
When are we going to stop relying on Barbie to make our girls feel pretty?
Let’s stop deluding ourselves. Barbie is Barbie. She will always have enlarged almond eyes bedazzled by unrealistically long and primped eyelashes. She will always have bright lipstick on her perfectly heart shaped lips. She will always have a over-developed bust and a waist-hip ratio that is unheard of among the human species. You can put a cowboy hat on her, you can even give her acne and eye glasses and call her “Dork Barbie.” But she has already defined and defiled what is beautiful for generations of women. And there are no makeovers and “versions” of Barbie that will ever erase her drugged smile and send a positive and realistic message to young girls. Or at least we have yet to see it.
The way we’re going with Barbie’s many makeovers, there may come a day where a girl will be crushed not to find a Barbie that resembles her exact style, ethnicity and now, medical condition. It seems a girl is only lovable insofar as her reflection is found in Mattel’s genius contraption.
Enough with the attempts to turn Barbie into the mirror for every young girl today. Enough with the protests when we don’t see our daughters reflected in the color, attire and hair-style of these svelte and over-developed plastic figures. Though it would be interesting to see, I would not applaud a fat Barbie or a makeup-less Barbie. Barbie by her very nature plays on a detrimental message being sent to our young girls every day—that beauty comes in one form. And the more we have to rely on Barbie to tell us what’s beautiful — no matter how sensitive in spirit — the harder it will be to reverse the effects of relying on the media to define beauty for our daughters.
A young girl suffering from cancer or a disease that causes hair-loss is beautiful because she has a smile and, most importantly, a spirit. Her beauty is in the way she chooses to accent and embellish her hair-loss, in how she chooses to find strength and humor in her situation. And if her “beauty” seems impossible to find, Barbie should be the last place to look for something that is inspiring and eternal.
And yet, the moms that banded together for this cause were bothered that “Young girls who went through any disease that had hair loss as a symptom didn’t have anyone to look up to.”
When will we stop looking to superimpose these role models in places that have already ensnared our youth with their negative messages about beauty and worth? When will we actually become these role models?
I loved playing with Barbies growing up. And when I am blessed with daughters, I doubt I will hands-down banish them from my home. But one things for sure: I will make sure my girls know that Barbie is just Barbie—a whole new and separate species that slightly resembles humans but is in no way a standard in which we seek to find ourselves.
If a young girl suffering from hair-loss complains to her mother that there is no bald Barbie, her mother’s response should not be to then valiantly insist on a bald Barbie. Her mother should be more vigilant in assuring her daughter that we don’t look to Barbie to find our beauty. Because every girl is beautiful because of something inherent—something within. Real beauty does not not need to be validated by our culture, especially in the form of a plastic figurine that, mind you, finds its source as a sex object.
When will our daughters hear this message?
With Passover’s steady approach, many of us are thinking about how best to unshackle ourselves from that which mentally and emotionally enslaves us. For women, perhaps freeing ourselves from society’s demeaning messages about beauty would be a powerful and healing exodus.
Mattel claims that three Barbies are sold every second. We have a lot of work to do.