A Generation of People Who Played With Barbies…. Was This Movie Meant For Us?
But First, For Our Younger Folks: What is Barbie??
Barbie is a fashion doll that has become an iconic cultural symbol. Created by Ruth Handler, co-founder of the toy company Mattel, the Barbie doll was first introduced on March 9, 1959, at the American International Toy Fair in New York City.
The idea for Barbie came to Ruth Handler when she noticed her daughter, Barbara, playing with paper dolls and imagining adult roles and scenarios. Handler realized that there was a gap in the market for a three-dimensional adult-like doll that could inspire imaginative play and encourage girls to dream beyond traditional gender roles.
The name “Barbie” was inspired by Ruth Handler’s daughter Barbara, and the doll’s full name is “Barbara Millicent Roberts.” Barbie’s appearance was based on a German fashion doll called Bild Lilli, based on a popular comic strip character in Germany during the 1950s.
The original Barbie doll was designed as a teenage fashion model with an adult figure, long legs, and a slim waist. She wore a black-and-white striped swimsuit and high-heeled shoes and had blonde hair styled in a ponytail. Barbie quickly gained popularity, and over the years, Mattel introduced a wide range of Barbie dolls with diverse looks, professions, and lifestyles.
Throughout the 1960s and beyond, Barbie expanded her career options to include various professions like astronauts, doctors, lawyers, and more. The doll’s image reflected societal changes, embracing different cultural backgrounds and promoting the idea that girls could aspire to be anything they wanted.
However, Barbie also faced criticism over the years for perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards and promoting materialistic attitudes. Critics argued that her impossibly slender figure and focus on fashion and appearance could negatively impact young girls’ self-esteem and body image.
In response to these concerns, Mattel tried to diversify the Barbie line, introducing dolls with different body types, skin tones, and hairstyles to represent their audience’s diversity better. They also released Barbie dolls inspired by real-life figures, such as historical icons, prominent athletes, and influential women from various fields.
Despite the criticisms, Barbie has maintained her position as a global icon and remains one of history’s best-selling and most recognizable toys. The brand continues to evolve, incorporating contemporary trends and issues to stay relevant and inspire young minds worldwide.
How Has Barbie Changed Over Time?
Over the decades since its introduction in 1959, the Barbie doll has undergone significant changes to adapt to evolving societal norms, fashion trends, and cultural demands. Here are some of the notable changes and transformations that Barbie has experienced over time:
- Diverse Career Options: In the early years, Barbie was primarily portrayed as a teenage fashion model, but as times changed, so did her career options. Throughout the 1960s and beyond, Barbie took on various professions, including astronauts, doctors, veterinarians, teachers, and more. This shift aimed to show girls they could aspire to any desired profession.
- Diverse Ethnicities and Backgrounds: In the 1960s, Barbie came from different ethnicities, reflecting the growing awareness of cultural diversity. Barbie dolls with diverse skin tones, facial features, and hairstyles were introduced to appeal to a broader audience.
- Hair and Hairstyles: Over the years, Barbie’s hair has undergone multiple changes in length, color, and style to reflect popular hair trends. Initially, Barbie had a simple ponytail, but she soon had variations like short hair, curly hair, and long flowing locks.
- Body Types: Recently, Mattel has addressed concerns about promoting unrealistic body standards by introducing a line of Barbie dolls with different body types. In 2016, they launched “Barbie Fashionistas,” featuring dolls with curvy, tall, and petite body shapes and the classic original design.
- Fashion and Clothing: Barbie has been an influential fashion icon since her inception, and her wardrobe has evolved to keep up with contemporary trends. She has had outfits ranging from glamorous evening gowns to sportswear, reflecting popular styles.
- Collaborations and Inspirations: To stay relevant and appeal to different audiences, Barbie has collaborated with various brands, designers, and celebrities. Famous characters from movies, TV shows, and pop culture have inspired special edition Barbies.
- Historical and Inspirational Figures: Mattel has released Barbie dolls based on historical and influential figures to inspire and educate. For example, there have been Barbie dolls inspired by Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Rosa Parks, and many others.
- Technology and Interactive Features: As technology advanced, so did Barbie. Interactive and “smart” Barbies have been introduced, incorporating features like speech recognition, touch sensors, and mobile app integration.
- Barbie’s Friends and Family: Over time, Barbie’s circle of friends and family members has expanded, adding diversity and depth to her social life. Her family includes her boyfriend Ken, her sisters Skipper, Stacie, and Chelsea, and friends like Teresa, Nikki, and more.
Through these changes, Mattel has attempted to make Barbie more representative of the diverse world in which she exists. The doll continues to adapt and evolve, sparking imagination and inspiring children to dream big and embrace their unique identities.
What Did The Barbie Movie Get Right… or Wrong?
The Barbie movie made a valiant effort to bring the famous Barbie, loved by many generations, to life. It was interesting, albeit exaggerated, to see the dichotomy between male and female worlds duke it out, almost literally. The movie was one continuous political and social commentary that went on for an hour too long past its running time. We got the jokes; we got the memos on the adversities our genders face in different ways; we even got the sexual references. Yes, you read right. Parents brought their underage, pre-teen children to see this film. Who would have thought…
In an attempt to shed light on the patriarchy, Ken takes over Barbieland after realizing that in the “Real World” he actually has the power. It’s a man’s world, unlike the femine hierarchy that dominates in Barbie’s universe. Women have various concerns and issues with the patriarchy, which refers to a social system where power and authority are predominantly held by men, and where traditional gender roles often reinforce male dominance and female subordination. It is important to note that these concerns are not universal, and individuals’ experiences and perspectives may differ based on their cultural, social, and personal contexts. Issues like gender inequality, discrimination and stereotyping, violence and abuse, lack of representation, and body image and beauty standards riddle the film and challenge the audience in not so subtle ways. In fact, the film hammers these points to an uncomfortable level, especially considering the PG-13 rating which gives the impression that the movie is “suitable for young children when accompanied with an adult.” Questionable and dubious.
It’s important to recognize that challenging the patriarchy is not about diminishing or excluding men, but rather seeking to create a more equitable and inclusive society that values the contributions and rights of all individuals, regardless of gender. Feminism, for instance, advocates for gender equality and social, political, and economic justice for all genders. By addressing these concerns and promoting gender equality, we can work towards building a more just and balanced world for everyone.