Over the fifty-something years since her introduction, Mattel‘s flagship girl’s fashion doll, Barbie, has been the object of as much scorn and controversy as love and devotion. The perennial issue driving the anti-Barbie movement is her wildly unrealistic measurements and bodily proportions. It is believed by many (and apparently backed up by statistics) that Barbie’s impossible curves make her an inappropriate role model for little girls, and are also causing sales of the doll to plummet.

Well, a Mattel executive has decided to step into the arena and defend Barbie’s bod.
Barbie’s physical dimensions have been a point of contention for decades. It’s become a cliche to use “Barbie Doll” to describe a woman with an absurdly “ideal” figure (which could mean you think she looks perfect, or you think she’s probably made mostly of plastic).

Anyhoo, Kim Culmone–Mattel’s Vice President of Design–is apparently tired of all the anti-Barbie rhetoric. Here’s what she had to say in an interview with Fast Company:

Barbie’s body was never designed to be realistic. She was designed for girls to easily dress and undress. And she’s had many bodies over the years, ones that are poseable, ones that are cut for princess cuts, ones that are more realistic.

Culmone also made the point that Barbie’s ludicrous proportions make it easier to scale clothing down to doll size:

Because if you’re going to take a fabric that’s made for us, and turn a seam for a cuff or on the body, her body has to be able to accommodate how the clothes will fit her.

Okay…I could not possibly know less about how doll clothing is designed and made–so I have nothing to answer her with…

Except MAYBE that making a doll that wouldn’t make little girls hate their bodies might possibly be of greater priority than cost-effective miniature fashion designing.

Culmone has an answer to this as well:

To me, there isn’t an objective to change the proportion of Barbie currently. And to little girls, they are putting themselves in that doll anyway. You have to remember that girls’ perceptions are so different than grown ups’ perceptions about what real is and what real isn’t, and what the influences are… Girls view the world completely differently than grown-ups do. They don’t come at it with the same angles and baggage and all that stuff that we do. Clearly, the influences for girls on those types of issues, whether it’s body image or anything else, it’s proven, it’s peers, moms, parents, it’s their social circles. When they’re playing, they’re playing. It’s a princess-fairy-fashionista-doctor-astronaut, and that’s all one girl. She’s taking her Corvette to the moon, and her spaceship to the grocery store. That is literally how girls play.

So, if I’m understanding correctly: Culmone’s position is since the playtime of young girls contains so many elements of the fantastic already, the fact that the doll they’re playing with looks like the incarnation of a 12 year old boy’s first spank bank resident is perfectly cool….

I’m missing the logic here. Wasn’t the whole idea of making Barbie a doctor and a fashionista and an astronaut and all the scores of other things she’s been over the past five decades to show little girls all the wonderful things they could be?

By Culmone’s reasoning, apparently Barbie WILL make a little girl believe she should be an astronaut–but WON’T make her believe she should be a size zero with huge boobs.


Apparently, the University of Sussex would disagree.

A study they performed in 2006 found that being exposed to images of Barbie dolls made girls between the ages of 5 and 8 have “lower body esteem and greater desire for a thinner body shape” than girls exposed to either no dolls or dolls that are US size 16.

Play IS often fantastical, but that doesn’t mean there are not elements of a child’s hopes and wishes for the person he or she wants to be in there, too.

As a child, realizing I could never be Optimus Prime did not make me hate my limited, fleshy, non-transforming body…because even a six year old understands that he can’t grow up to be an alien robot disguised as a Peterbilt truck.

But little girls ARE told–explicitly and implicitly–that they can and should be like Barbie…and Barbie’s just a human woman (however inhuman her measurements are), growing up to be just like her does not appear all that absurd to a child.

If Barbie is supposed to be about the empowerment of little girls–as has been the Mattel party line since I was a kid–what’s wrong with giving her a body they can attain without extensive cosmetic surgery and rampant eating disorders?

Source: The Mary Sue

Category: Nerd Culture, WTF?

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