Archives » Soul of the City

the Queen Of All

Barbie critics misguided

by

comment
There was an influential mature female figure besides my mother in our house when I was growing up, and it wasn't one of my warring grandmothers, or two scraggly aunts-by-marriage. It was my Barbie doll. She still stands to this day on a shelf in my living room, poised in shocking pink for an evening of tripping the light fantastic, circa 1970. Barbie, with her blonde mane, pool-blue eyes, and upright hooters, was my portal to fabulousness at that pre-teen stage when I myself was less than stunning in braces and training bra.

My gal Barbie, long considered Queen of the Fashion Dolls, has been under fire, with conflicting charges being lobbied from across the globe. Here in the US some are whining that she's become old-fashioned because she isn't hip or ethnic or realistic-looking enough, while fanatics in Saudi Arabia are denouncing her as "a symbol of decadence to the perverted West," actually a pretty hip-sounding label. This is from the website of The Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which no doubt meets in a big glass mosque.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that as a few Americans grouse about her lack of "ethnicity," those wacky Propagators refer to her as "Jewish Barbie." I don't know if this is an allusion to Mattel or what, but it just doesn't make sense regarding our gal. Let's face it, Barbie just doesn't have the Jewish Princess look and in fact much more strongly resembles a citizen of the Aryan Nation.

Maybe over there they label anything they're trying to demonize "Jewish," just like we would name her "Terrorist Barbie" if we wanted to discourage people from buying her, although that might make for some interesting dolls. Just think, there could be "Terrorist-Stewardess Barbie," secretly armed with a box cutter to take over the plane, or "Suicide-Bomber-Shopper Barbie," equipped with a Saks bag hiding plastic explosives that are timed to go off as she boards a bus.

The question of whether she's a WASP or a Jewess aside, the complaint that Barbie isn't realistic enough is the looniest, since the whole point is that she's a fantasy of what every budding female would like to be, even if they have beak noses and wide behinds. Despite claims that girls want dolls that more closely resemble themselves, I find it hard to imagine some little chest-challenged Tween saying to herself, "I don't have any ninnies, so let me go get a doll that doesn't, either."

No, she's going to be even more motivated to find one that's stacked, so that through the doll she can imagine she is, too. That's what you do with Barbie. Baby dolls just let you pretend to be a mommy, with a vague shadow of "wife" hanging over, but with Barbie you have your own pad and loads of "now" outfits, as a catalog I saved describes them.

You also have her new beau Blaine, taking longtime boyfriend Ken's place, complete with a mysterious hump between his legs, but he's kind of marginal. Just like prom night isn't about the date for a lot of girls, Barbie's dream life isn't about her boyfriend, or even her possible careers dutifully outfitted by Mattel. It's really about practicing that preening and feathering that's an elemental part of being female. I don't care if you're a buzz-cut dyke, you still like to fix yourself up in some way to send whatever message you're into, even if it's "I can fuck you better than your boyfriend."

Yeah, yeah, we need the job role models and the depictions of real women, but at nine or ten we just want to project ourselves onto a perfect, heavenly body, and drape it in as many snazzy combos as possible. Other companies can produce shorter dolls with bigger hips and less bust, but Barbie is the Platonic ideal, like the goddess Athena or the Virgin Mary, who was portrayed as a bit of a babe with flowing, fair hair and blue eyes when I was growing up.

In fact, I bet there isn't a culture on this earth, including that of the P and P guys, that doesn't go ape openly, or under their robes, over a well-built blonde. With Barbie as their surrogate, girls get to traverse the planet as such in their fantasy lives, before settling into their wide-thighed, less-than-chesty realities.

As for the "not hip enough" charge, the people making it must not be familiar with my Age of Aquarius edition of Barbie and her ultra-mod wardrobe. She has pop-art outfits and accessories that the Sex and The City foursome would die for, including a sheer lace pantsuit overlaid with spangles, a silver lame mini-shift, and neon-lemon go-go boots. Forget Ken, Blaine and the career! My Barbie dwells forever in the proudly decadent dazzle of self-adornment. Her whole set-up says that life is a disco, and I'm grateful that, through her, I got to pretend that's true.

Add a comment