When I was little, I loved Barbie. Looooooooved Barbie. I had the house, the cars, the horses, the friends and the Kens. My Barbies and I went on many adventures together; we were pageant queens, writers, doctors…you name it, my Barbies did it with style.
As a little girl, I never looked at Barbie and thought, “When I’m a big girl, I need to look just like this!” I knew nobody looked like Barbie; my mom didn’t, my aunts didn’t, my babysitters didn’t either. I never thought I had to look like Cinderella or Jasmine either, because I knew they were cartoons. I knew Barbie was just a toy.
That’s what bothers me about these “normal Barbie” campaigns that take over the internet every so often. For me, the magic of Barbie was that she was this beautiful fantasy toy, not that she looked like the women I saw every day.
Little girls use Barbie for more than play. Even if it’s subconscious, we use Barbie to act out our fantasies of adulthood. Our Barbies had parties, went to work, fell in love. Some of them were singers or dancers and some were moms. Some were TV reporters or designers or actresses. It didn’t matter. Barbie could take on anything. She was a canvas for us to project on.
Barbie has worked for so long because she’s so generically perfect. She’s fun to dress up; she looks great in a princess dress and in jeans. Little girls are smart enough to know that real women don’t have pointy feet and gravity-defying boobs. We don’t give them enough credit. Barbie is a toy. She’s not real. Why shouldn’t she look a bit magical? The man who created the latest “normal” Barbie says, “Average is beautiful.” But is it really? I certainly wouldn’t have been interested in playing with an average doll.
I would have been bored with a short, normal-looking doll. I liked Barbie’s frosted eyeshadow and fancy hairdos. I liked her friends too. Barbie is presented as a woman with a bunch of girlfriends, sisters she’s close to and a boyfriend she loves. What’s wrong with that? Barbie’s home life seems pretty stable even if she’s a bit all over the place career-wise. I also liked that Mattel released all sorts of different dolls, like the “Dolls of the World” collection. I learned a lot from my different Barbies. I knew that they were beautiful, but I wasn’t too preoccupied with that. I was more interested in teaching them how to ride their horses properly.
Recently I was hanging out with a friend’s young daughter and naturally, we were playing Barbies. Stella is just about three, so she’s pretty young, but I observed her play anyway. Her Barbies were hanging out in their Dreamhouse having a friendly conversation, as you do. She’d probably observed this on TV or in her home. She’s little, but she’s using Barbie to act out the life she wants. Stella doesn’t seem too preoccupied with how Barbie looks; she just wants to play.