Malleable Barbie Adapts to the Times

1959 Barbies
1959 Barbie.  An icon for 57 years of America’s focus on women’s breasts and looks, over achievements

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”. 

pMAT1-24394475reg
President Barbie and her female running mate continue the oddly proportioned Barbie shape.

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.

 

 

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Seattle, Flying Monkeys, and Magic

“Mom,” my 16 year old daughter said to me last week. “Scott found the flying monkey again in his room. I heard it squealing!”  The flying monkey refers to a small stuffed animal about six inches long wearing a cape and mask.

screaming_monkey
Flying monkey complete with cape and mask

The hands of the monkey are attached to a large rubber band and when launched correctly the monkey flies through the air, screaming a high pitched yowl at its intended victim.  My son Scott is 22 and a senior at the University of Idaho.  He has owned a flying monkey since he was 11. The monkey has suffered torn arms and numerous failed flights but has been part of our household since more than ten years.  Our pets live in fear of the monkey which when launched correctly can harmlessly shoot after a cat or dog who wisely runs at its terrifying sound.  My daughter hates the monkey because as soon as it arrived on Christmas, Scott learned to shoot the monkey into her bedroom from his room  without his parents knowing he was annoying his younger sister yet again.

 

I actually fell in love with monkey when I first saw it. My husband and I were in Seattle for couples get-away.  It was December and we were celebrating our joint birthdays which are both in December.  We had a house sitter for the kids and for two glorious days we were free to wander and eat gourmet food in Seattle, one of my favorite cities. We flew to Seattle on Friday night right after work.  You can fly out of Boise at 5:30 and get into Seattle at 5:30, one of the amazing features of different time zones.  We were staying on the Seattle harbor at the Edgewater Inn, a beautiful older hotel resting atop Pier 67 on Seattle’s Elliott Bay. The four story 223-room Edgewater is Seattle’s only waterfront hotel.

Edgewater Hotel
Edgewater Inn, Seattle’s only waterfront hotel

Originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the hotel has hosted the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, KISS, and the Village People.   The hotel has large romantic bedrooms with gas fireplaces, cozy quilts and big windows looking out on the bay.

 

The weather was absolutely miserable when we landed on Friday night, pouring cold rain and sleet. When we left the hotel to walk to the restaurant, the wind turned the hotel’s umbrella inside out.  We ducked in one of the closest restaurants to  eat and warm up.  I don’t remember the food or the restaurant but the cold weather made the escape back to our room with quilts and fireplace even more romantic. The rooms of the Edgewater have windows that look out on the ocean. The next morning those windows showcased  bleak gray clouds with no rain but lots of wind churning up white caps and  slapping the murky ocean water up against the pier.

Seattle is a walking city. We spent the cold, brisk morning exploring small shops and stopping for coffee and snacks between Pikes Place Market and Union Square.  Somewhere in our travels, we stopped at a toy shop where several monkeys were flying through the air along with other moving toys.  I was enchanted by all the high energy in the shop filled with squealing children, excited for Christmas and many toys I hadn’t seen before. I thought we should buy two monkeys, one for each of our children (then 11 and 5).  My more conservative husband limited my purchase to one and so the flying monkey came into my possession.

Elliot Bay Bookstore
Elliot Bay Consistently ranked one of the best bookstores in America

We finished our afternoon by wandering down to Elliot Bay Bookstore then at Union Square (Elliot Bay has now moved to Capitol Hill). Elliot Bay is rated  one of the great independent bookstores in this country with over 150,000 books, set on cedar bookshelves in exposed red brick rooms. I have never been in the book store when it wasn’t busy and Christmas is, of course, it’s busiest time of year. We spent several hours out of the cold Seattle wind, drinking coffee and browsing through new  books along with crowds of other people.

 

That evening we had dinner at Wild Ginger, a premier Pan Asian restaurant, ranked as one of the top restaurants in the world. Wild Ginger is located at 3rd and Union, easy walking distance from Seattle’s main downtown hotels. The web site boasts of providing diners with a culinary tour of China and Southeast Asia. I remember my  Hanoi tuna, seared rare with almonds, garlic and shallots being a delicacy fit for the Gods.  I don’t think I have ever had tuna since which was prepared as well.Wild Ginger

We flew home on the 10 A.M. Alaskan flight the next day, touching down in Boise on Sunday around noon

Recent research has shown (not surprising to my way of thinking) that experiences bring people more happiness than things. Whenever the flying monkey takes flight through our house with its hideous high pitched squeal, I am absolutely delighted.  The monkey reminds me of a magical weekend (10 years ago) spent in Seattle with my husband of 27 years.  I once again feel the sting of cold rain, zapping my face like a thousand miniscule needles as I run towards the beckoning warmth of a highly rated hotel room.  I remember holding hands as we dashed across streets not walking to the signals as we should because few cars were out in the down pour.  I remember my delight at throwing open the door to our room and finding the gas fireplace lit and down comforter folded back as if welcoming us to climb right in. If I take time to savor the experience, I can feel the busy, bustling atmosphere of the Wild Ginger, the push of people trying to get seated, the excitement of waiting for a superb dinner, the clank of dishes and sliver ware, the swish of waiters moving quickly and efficiently through tightly packed tables.  The monkey also reminds me of my strong ties to my home in Boise.  My kids are never far from my mind when I travel.  I am always glad when I open the door to the welcoming surroundings and familiar sounds of our Boise home.

Little did I know when I bought the monkey, that the odd skinny plush toy would become an experiential purchase. An experiential purchase is one which provides an association with one’s identity, connections and social behaviors.  For me, the monkey, which is really only an ugly useless toy when left  dormant and forgotten in a young man’s room, becomes a magical creature when launched through the house  producing groans of “ not again” from a younger sister,  wild barking from two dogs, puffed up hair and bristling tails from  two cats and enchanted memories for me.

 

Talking Barbies Terrorize Household

In 2004, the Princess Barbie Movies came out with the Princess and the Pauper.

with cat
Brunette Pauper

 

With cat2
Blonde Princess Barbie

The movie was a direct to video edition starring the one and only Barbie as both a blonde princess and a brunette pauper. My daughter, Kayla, 5 at the time,  was very taken with the movie and watched it repeatedly.  Naturally, for Christmas, she wanted the Princess and the Pauper Barbie dolls.  Santa obliged bringing not one but two Barbies into the house.

Barbie has been around since 1959.  In fact, I actually owned one of the first Barbies with stripped swim suit, sun glasses, dark hair, and white plastic high heels. My Barbie had scandalous bright red toe nails.

1959 Barbies
1959 original Barbie

Unfortunately, my Barbie, who would now be worth almost $30,000  disappeared in a move.  I did have her with me when I married in 1989.  Thus 56 year old Barbie won’t be funding Kayla’s college education in the next couple of years.

 

While the basic Barbie shape and size has remained, Barbie keeps evolving to appeal to a new generation of young girls. She has become less angular, her make-up particularly the black liner and red pouty lips are less stark, and her hair is softer.  She has become somewhat ethnically diverse.  Possibly the biggest transformation is she has learned to talk.  Barbie started talking in 1968 with a string on a back of her neck.  She spouted titillating phrases such as “Would you like to go shopping?” or “I love being a fashion model.”  The ability to talk has evolved since this bare bone effort until this Christmas; you can purchase for your child a Hello “hackable” Barbie (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2015/12/04/hello-hackable-barbie/).  Hello Barbie has an internet connection to “listen” to children and uses artificial intelligence to respond.

Hackable Barbie
2015 Hello Barbie with internet connection

 

The 2004 Princess and the Pauper Barbies had advanced from talking to singing.  They regularly sang around our house the main theme song of the movie, “I’m a Girl Like You!”  The most memorable phrase for me is “I’m just like you (Princess);  Your just like me (Pauper)”. As with any toy that makes noise, the repetitive singing of the two Barbies was slightly annoying to my husband and me, but Kayla got such delight over crooning along with the dolls we ignored the noise.

Barbie dolls
Singing dolls 2004

 

That is until we were awakened in the middle of the February night by a terrible caterwauling in the laundry room.  The laundry room is all the way cross the house from the master bedroom, through a hallway, across the great room and through the kitchen.  For my husband and I to both sit upright in bed and go, “What is that?” at the same time, gives you some idea of the noise level coming from the other side of the house. We could tell it was an electronic malfunction by the quality of the sound.  At first, Pete thought it was fire alarm. You know the unbearable shrill screeching of declining batteries.

When we looked in the laundry room, the Princess and the Pauper were singing in garbled voices in the plastic basket at the bottom of the laundry chute.  I threw them in the garbage can in the garage to mitigate their noise.  My husband and I went back to bed.

The next morning Kayla explained, “I was having a pool party and after they went for a swim they wouldn’t shut up!  They scared me  so I wrapped them in towels and threw them down the chute.”

No kidding, they scared Kayla! Their garbled electronic voices in the middle of night terrified my husband and I.  When the Kayla and I went off to school the next morning, we could still hear the two Barbies singing in the trash “I—mmmmm j—ust like—YYYYY ou!   YYY our just like MEEEE!” as we drove away.  I wouldn’t be surprised if their electronic voices are still sometimes heard haunting the Boise City trash dump.