Every girl can relate to Barbie, whether they idolise or despise the brand. From the numerous headlines of women spending thousands to look like the doll in the quest to be beautiful, to the negative connotations that the doll has created both gentrified and unrealistic beauty standards, the Barbie brand is nonetheless legendary.
A 2006 UK study (PSMAG) gave groups of girls a Barbie book or an Emme book – a doll of realistic proportions and assessed the impact it had on them. Younger girls who read the Barbie book were more dissatisfied with their bodies than those who read the Emme ones. However, older girls aged seven to eight were not affected by which books they read yet overall had greater body dissatisfaction.
This points to larger underlying issues in society stemming from the standard practices adhered too in the modelling industry, casting within the film industry and generally the images we see in everyday media.
There is also a lack of influential women in business or positions of power, which then leads to opening a can of worms when trying to find the cause of this, such as the gender pay gap and also the view that men are perceived to perform better in certain roles. There is clearly lack of diversity in celebrating all types of women.
A headline I came across from an article on ABC News: Black Barbie’s were marked down in price compared to their white counterparts, Walmart explains this is due to low sales and to increase interest. A business decision indeed but it sparks the message that lowering the price devalues the black doll, in other words the black race. This could convey feelings to an impressionable girl that she is unwanted, unattractive and unloved, all the things a young girl is most afraid off.
This discussion naturally then leads to the parents, they have the purchasing power and as much as they may stand for equality, can you blame them for buying a doll that is the same colour as they are? This is under the assumption that most buyers are white and more likely to afford these dolls. Overall, considering the sensitivity this has caused, Walmart should have bit the bullet on this one and took the loss.
The tag line of Barbie’s new campaign being ‘WHEN A GIRL PLAYS WITH BARBIE, SHE IMAGINES EVERYTHING SHE CAN BECOME’, which I can personally say this embodies exactly what I used to do. My Barbie doll was simply an accessory to my imagination, not the definition of what my imagination should be. The social media campaign #MakeunderMonday highlight how girls really play with their Barbie’s.
I didn’t notice there were no brown Barbie’s as a child but then again brown rolemodels were absent in general, so it was just normal to me. Maybe if there were a brown Barbie it would help the some of the insecurities I faced that lighter is better. Its not a solution but it’s a start and education fundamentally starts at home.
A world recognised brand for women, this campaign is a welcome change to empower young girls and encourage them to dream big, opening their outlook and giving them the choice that there is more on offer, with a selection of dolls in varying careers such as an athlete, a skateboarder, or a pilot.
Their Instagram will also follow up with examples of great women in history under the hashtag #YouCanBeAnything. One person they have honoured is U.S. Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammed, the first Muslim female medallist to compete in a hijab and have created a unique Barbie doll for her.
The body image effect debated within society cannot be pinpointed to Barbie alone, it is a media problem with both adult women as well as young girls feeling insecure about their bodies. Barbie has been changing with the times and adapting to the demand to portray more realistic body types, with the introduction of curvy and petite dolls into it’s range.
Regardless of Barbie’s existence, the body image debate would still be in the limelight, take a look at the many controversies from the modelling world. So, thank you for Barbie for using your power, maybe it’s very good brand management to improve dwindling sales, nonetheless I’m down with it.
By Mohbeen Mushtaq.