First introduced in 1959, over the past 57 years, Mattel has tried to update Barbie to adjust to the times. To that end, the company introduced last week, Barbie for President with a female running mate. This combination is intended to be an inspiration for young girls. “By introducing the new President and Vice President Barbie dolls, the first all-female ticket, we hope to inspire girls to imagine themselves as leaders,” Erin Loos Cutraro, co-founder and CEO of She Should Run, tells Babble.
Throughout her life-span, Barbie has become ethnically diverse, moved from a beauty queen and model to a professional. Her hair originally a classic long pony tail which couldn’t be combed has transformed to long, short, curly, black, red, blonde, silky and brushable to totally changeable. Barbie’s originally stiff body is now flexible.
But one thing that has not changed is her shape. Research suggests that a real woman with Barbie’s figure would be 5’9″, host a 39 inch bust, 17 inch waist and wear a size 3 shoe. Given the wildly disproportionate trunk to base, a real woman with this shape couldn’t walk, would have extremely frail bones, half a liver and probably be anorexic. Mattel is currently working on changing Barbie again by incorporating more diverse body types, though the exact nature of these changes has yet to be specified.
Rather than launching a new wave of socially engaged little girls, Presidential Barbie seems antiquated. This is particularly true when viewed in combination with Jennifer Aniston’s For The Record in the Huffington Post (7/12/2016 ). Aniston writes about unwanted speculation from the media and complains about the objectification of her body in particular and women’s bodies in general. Given these two pieces of evidence, it appears Americans have not progressed very far in their expectations of what an attractive young woman should look like.
I am left in a quandary about what American cultural expectations do to little girls self image. We are pushing young girls in to pursue STEM programs (we want girls to go into math, science and engineering). Women’s sports are on the rise with girls participating in every imaginable activity. Cheerleading is still around but not the sole way for a teenage girl to be involved in a sporting event. Yet with all these changes, Aniston writes just this week “The objectification and scrutiny we put women through is absurd and disturbing. The way I am portrayed by the media is simply a reflection of how we see and portray women in general, measured against some warped standard of beauty”.
I would argue the newly released presidential Barbie doesn’t encourage young women to be whoever they want but rather reinforces strongly held cultural beliefs that attractive women sport large breasts, narrow waists and are stilted rather than engaged in life. These icons of American woman have fabulous hair styles and always dress correctly.
The Republican and Democratic conventions are rolling into our media space the next two weeks. Speaking only last night, we learned within minutes of Melania Trump’s presentation that she wore an off-the-rack white Roksanda dress costing between $1500 and $2000. The dress was described as “perfect for the White House.” I am willing to bet we will read about Tiffany and Ivanka Trumps’outfits as well i.e. who designed it, cost and whether the dress looked appropriate for the setting. All three women are drop-dead gorgeous so I can’t image any tacky comments about hair or appearance. I doubt we will read anything about Marco Rubio’s, Newt Gingrich’s or Donald Trump’s suits (what they cost and what fabric they were made of, how did the tie go, did they get wrinkled or hang perfectly on TV).
While snide comments are frequently made about Donald Trump’s hair, these remarks don’t seem to have any traction. In comparison, an article about Hilary Clinton wearing an Armani suit went viral. Mr. Trump’s suits routinely cost at least $7,000 but this does not seem to be of interest to the American public. Sara Palin had a budget of $150,000 to purchase clothing for her Vice Presidential run. Demonstrating that focusing on the importance of women’s appearance rather than just judging individuals based on competence is not limited to party but rather to gender.
Michelle Obama has made being a Presidential wife or candidate accessible for the everyday woman by wearing clothes from Target along with custom designs from high end designers. A gorgeous woman and outstanding representative of America women, Mrs. Obama has also received considerable criticism from the right for “being angry” and emphasizing “being black”. Passionate women when they speak are frequently seen as “angry” rather than committed. One can hardly blame Mrs. Obama for sharing her black experience with all of us when so many of us seem to have such limited understanding of diversity. Brown versus the Board of Education, the landmark decision requiring integration of American schools was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954, five years before Barbie was launched.
More than fifty years later, Americans are still struggling with their vision of women and race. Feminism was largely a white movement and only recently recognized that American women as a group are quite diverse, representing many cultures and colors and have immensely dissimilar experiences. American women’s commonality is their struggle to be seen as unique individuals with vastly under-recognized and under-utilized potential, capable of crafting a great American future. It’s seems time to ditch the long-standing, stultifying stereotypes adopted into our culture many years ago. Maybe instead of saying “Hello” to Presidential Barbie and her look-alike running mate, we all should say”Goodbye” to Barbie and what she represents.