Here’s my thought of the day: will Barbie ever grow up, literally? Barbie has matured over the years as her job prospects have widened, but there is room for her to mature even more. I thought the article in The Guardian from January would deal with ageism, but instead it referred only to the idealised perfection of Barbie’s face and breasts. I wonder if it is time for Barbie to sport wrinkles as well as acne. After all, she is now 57.
Barbie the teenage fashion model was presented to the world in 1959 as a more child-friendly version of the German doll Lilli, but by the time I fell in love with the doll in the 90’s she had acquired friends of different ages (her younger sister Skipper was issued in 1964) and ethnic backgrounds (her friend Christie, issued in 1968, was the first African American doll). Back then, Mattel’s focus was on creating another world and making that world more diverse. But the underlying problem of idealisation still existed, because for girls the doll to aspire to be like was always Barbie, and she was white-skinned, made up, heavily gendered, and a cosmetic surgeon’s dream.
Mattel has recently made a breakthrough in destroying this unhealthy image. Now Barbie comes in my petite size and larger girth, as part of a new issue of a range of sizes and girths. There have been calls for more realistic and individualistic physical features, so perhaps in the future a Barbie might have a lazy eye or scoliosis. Following demands from organisations like Let Toys Be Toys, Makie has already made dolls with disabilities.
But there is still an area of prejudice being overlooked. Barbie’s image caters for a society obsessed with youth. You can buy an astronaut Barbie that looks too young to be selected for the job (astronauts tend to be in their 30’s). Just a few extra touches are required to correct this mistake, far more economical for the production line than creating Barbies customised to mirror the complexities of the human race.