Image from BBC News
Barbie Millicent Roberts turns 51 years old today and she has yet to show any signs of aging (in stature or wisdom).
I'd venture to guess this is no new news to you -- but if Barbie's proportions were scaled up to a real life woman, we'd see quite frightening results. A 5'6" woman, for example, would need to have a 20-inch waist, a 27-inch bust, and 29-inch hips to match Barbie's proportions. If she kept her healthy 28-inch waist, she'd need to be 7'6" tall to match Barbie's dimensions.
Researchers at Finland's University Central Hospital in Helsinki reported that if Barbie were life size she would lack the minimum 17-22% body fat required for a woman to menstruate and be able to carry children.
A University of South Australia study released statistics that the likelihood of a woman having a body shape similar (but not necessarily identical) to Barbie is 1 in 100,000 -- so there may be some 'Barbie bodies' out there, but not many, and likely fewer still that have birthed babies into this world.
I grew up with a mother who was neither a self-proclaimed feminist, nor a door mat. She wasn't all that well-versed in cultural literacy, gender studies, and social sexism, but there were a few limitations in place at our home when I entered the world in the early 70s. One of them was a 'no Barbie dolls' clause. Surprisingly, I later found out this 'rule' was passed down from her father - an assertive Navy Captain turned engineer who lost his wife to cancer and was left to raise 3 daughters (and 4 sons) on his own in the 1950s.
Not only did my grandfather dislike baby dolls being left naked and 'unattended to,' but he did not care one bit for this new pseudo-woman known as Barbie. I occasionally wonder what my grandfather knew that caused him to take issue with Barbie... What were his reasons for this disdain? He passed away before I was mature enough to really ask him the hard questions, but I wonder if somewhere deep down, this tough man, who'd seen the whole world through war-stained eyes, had an intuitive sense of what little girls need, and don't need, growing up to be wise, confident, and self-assured women.
I never missed Barbie much throughout my childhood. We had far too many other adventures to keep us busy. There were dams to build and forts to construct and marshy wooded wonderlands to explore. Maybe it made a difference that my closest siblings were my brothers, and the neighborhood was filled with boys. Like it or not, life was rough and tumble and Barbie free. And I held my own quite well. I never felt different, or not one of them. Somehow I was unanimously named president of our 'group' -- one which I promptly named, The Bunny Foot Club, and the name remained unchallenged.
Our house today is still Barbieless, though her name was mentioned more than once throughout my Women's & Gender Studies courses in graduate school... It interests me, the ways that parents navigate these gendered waters of social construction within their children's play. And the fact that Barbie is still here - alive and well and still stirring up trouble 3 generations later - says something.
While I don't afford her the power to ultimately make or break a young girl's self-image, the sexualized culture of unrealistic (and unhealthy!) expectations that we push girls into - at ever more early ages - is in some ways propagated by our Barbie saturated world. I cannot help but hope there comes a day when I am able to walk into a store and not have the flashes of pink and plastic and flesh and sex defining all that is the girls' toy aisle from a hundred yards away. There must be more to our daughters' lives than this.
Female Chauvinist Pigs
Sexy So Soon
The Lolita Effect
Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media
McBarbie: Selling Sex with a Side of Fries
Toxic Toy Story [Mothering.com]
No More Junk Toys: Rethinking Children's Gifts [Mothering.com]