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Sunday, July 21, 2019

Columns

Barbie’s attempt to commemorate women only made beauty standards worse


Understanding and embracing the strengths and weaknesses that accompany femininity is a process that starts early. When I was growing up, Barbie was progressive enough to have a diversity of careers. I grew up playing with Doctor Barbie, Scientist Barbie and Astronaut Barbie. But this mostly white ideal of femininity was also busy setting unrealistic standards for women.

Barbie came out with 17 new dolls to honor successful historical and modern day women for International Women’s Day.

Mattel has been evolving their brand for years to be more inclusive of different body types, skin tones and cultures, which is important because toys often set the standard for how children see the world. The original doll debuted in 1959 and created a very specific aesthetic for the appearance and responsibilities of women.

Fifty-nine years later, Barbie has a range of four body types, seven skin tones, 22 eye colors and 24 hairstyles, but it still isn’t enough.

The progress is evident as Barbie struggles to re-brand, but there are some inherent issues with the concept of Barbie. The 2016 ‘Fashionista’ line is a belated embrace welcoming more diversity in body types after years of controversy. While Barbie proudly proclaims that girls can aim for the stars, her beautiful features and hypersexualized appearance present expectations to young girls that can dampen their ambitions.

Mattel’s recent changes emphasize reflecting on a more genuine reality for young and impressionable children. This shift can also be ascribed to Barbie’s decreasing popularity in favor of more realistic dolls that present women in an empowered and motivational regard.

Mattel conducted a survey before releasing the new line where they found 86 percent of mothers were worried about the role models their daughters are exposed to.

This line had potential to redeem the brand.

Their selection for women to honor included the director of Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins, and Olympic gold medalist snow boarder Chloe Kim. The honorees range across the globe from the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, Turkey, France, China, Germany, Mexico, Poland, Italy and Spain.

Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic. Katherine Johnson is a NASA mathematician who challenged race and gender stereotypes. Frida Kahlo was the iconic artist and social revolutionary who shocked and amazed the world with her art. These are the three historical heroes that Barbie is commemorating for International Women’s Day in their new ‘Inspiring Women’ series.

Barbie is taking a step in the right direction, but the women in the line are not accurate representations of themselves.

The signature Barbie glamour is overpowering and distracts from the statement Mattel wanted to make. Frida Kahlo’s signature unibrow, her proclamation against the beauty standards of her time, is drastically diminished to a couple of sparse hairs. Her dark eyes are lightened to make for a beautiful and happy face. Her wheelchair, the staple of the disabled artist, is missing from this airbrushed Barbie.

Every discerning characteristic of the radical and openly queer artist has been eroded to produce this doll that is no closer to Kahlo’s iconic image than any other colorful doll with flowers her hair.

These small changes make significant impacts on the esteem and confidence of children.  It embeds this belief that as women our ambitions are contingent on our beauty.

I will commend Ibtihaj Muhammad for being the first Muslim American athlete to win a medal.  I will not commend Mattel for releasing the first hijab wearing Barbie after her because it extends only some misimagined feeling of belonging to girls who don’t get to feel engaged and welcome in their community or country. This racial capitalism forces us to pay to feel like a part of something and commemorates our identities.

Mattel’s desperate grabs at encompassing feminism in their brand only convinces me more that my childhood would have been better spent with a toy that didn’t condition me to think my talents and determination were just as important as my waist size.

Opinion Editor Anusheh Siddique is a finance freshman and can be reached at [email protected]

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