Why Barbie is my feminist icon
We should all be Barbie girls, or whichever non-binary gender term you prefer
Barbie has taken a lot of shit over her 58 years in existence. It’s a classic story of a pretty, enviable woman (okay, a doll) receiving criticism for daring to be herself, no matter her achievements people will concentrate on her appearance, not unlike the recent controversy surrounding Emma Watson’s Vanity Fair photoshoot in which she dared to bare her underboobs. Bitch.
I can recognise why Barbie is seen as problematic. She’s white (this isn’t a problem of skin colour, its an issue which digs deep into the white-washing of beauty, when the “white population” of the world currently stands at approximately 1.3 billion, in a world of approximately 7.125 billion different races and ethnicities), she’s got an extremely desirable body shape that is difficult to achieve unless you are naturally born with it, and she’s also a woman. It’s undeniable that Barbie contributes to an unrealistic standard of beauty, which is especially damaging considering that she is essentially a children’s toy. However; it’s 2017, so why should’t we accept Barbie for who she is?
In 2014, Barbie “posed” for an issue of Sports Illustrated, causing quite a stir. The response was mixed, but weighed negatively on the fact that she was literally a plastic doll made in the image of Western beauty standards, and therefore shouldn’t be featured in a campaign that celebrates women, real women. What did Barbie say? Get over it. A response was posted on Barbie’s blog encouraging people to own who they were and to be more accepting of women, and the different shapes, sizes and bodies (and plastic) they come in, accompanied by the hashtag #UNAPOLOGETIC.
I personally have never seen Barbie as anything but positive. I identify with her – I love pink, I have blonde hair, I enjoy being tanned, and lets be honest, I’d love to drive a hot pink “California dream Jeep”. But what’s more, Barbie was and still is my idol because she’s so successful. Not only is Barbie an icon, she’s also been a marine biologist, a vet, an actress, an astronaut (3 times), a teacher, a chef and has run for president, totalling 150 careers .
As a kid, I would never play with my Barbies or read her books or watch her movies and come away feeling defeated, Barbie made me feel empowered. She’s always #unapologetically just Barbie.
Working with young girls as a nanny in my teens, I really got back in touch with my Barbie obsession. I was skeptical at first when the girls would beg me to watch Barbie: Princess Charm School (my personal favourite), or Barbie of Swan Lake or hours of back to back episodes of Barbie’s web series Barbie in the Dream House, but I soon came to realise that watching this, it wasn’t filling the young female minds I had responsibility of 3 days a week with pink fluff and ponies and unicorns and boys with abs, Barbie was teaching them that they could literally achieve anything. Yeah, you might work in a coffee shop and live in a run down apartment but why the hell can’t you be a princess? And if you’re a princess then that doesn’t automatically make you an entitled brat, it means you have a responsibility to be compassionate, kind, giving and accepting. The general plot of most Barbie films (and I’ve seen a lot, trust me) is about rising above the preconceived expectations of what you can achieve, it’s about helping your sisters (long before Frozen did it), your friends in any way you can and about handling jealousy or negativity (or in the case of Barbie: In a Mermaid Tale), downright bitchiness with grace, respecting yourself and believing in your abilities enough to not let the haters get you down.
I also really appreciate that Barbie is a hard worker. There’s an episode in her web series (which is great hangover fodder, by the way) where it’s discovered that despite Barbie’s extensive education, she never actually passed her driving test. To cut a long story short, Barbie realises that she can’t drive without learning (duh). It’s not like Barbie is a privileged little princess who lounges around in her Dreamhouse getting Ken to brush her hair and feed her grapes (although I can see why you’d think that), it’s about achieving anything you put your mind to through hard work.
And speaking of Ken, what an absolutely bloody brilliant, healthy, fulfilling relationship for kids to see. At the end of the day, Barbie and Ken are best mates, there’s no drama (apart from that one time when Barbie had a brief fling with a hunky Australian surfer dude named Blaine, yassss queen) and Barbie really looks out for her friends, and her family – all important lessons.
With regard to Barbie and body image, Mattel are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Surely the whole idea of body positivity is to embrace who you are? While barbie did encompass this in her #UNAPOLOGETIC campaign, Mattel also released a “curvy, petite and tall” Fashionista line of dolls in 2016, which also come in a range of skin, hair and eye colours, which can only be a good thing.
The way I see it, Barbie is an independent, successful woman who teaches acceptance, compassion and the value of hard work to young people. Plus, she loves pink. What’s not to like?