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Barbie: Independent Woman Or Damaging American Icon?

2690 words - 11 pages

Barbie: Independent Woman or Damaging American Icon?

She's the classic American beauty, the woman we all dreamed of being at one point in our lives. She has long, tanned legs, cascades of blonde curls and has such perky breasts that she doesn't even need a bra. Although this character does not need air to breathe and is made of plastic, she has been one of America's most potent icons for more than 40 years and has affected girls in ways even human models aren't capable of. With 250 million Barbies in existence in the United States alone, there are more Barbies than there are people in the United States (Green 339). Barbie is adored by 8-year-old girls, collected by baby-boomer moms, and despised by feminists. No one can deny Barbie's unmistakable popularity.

I myself am still the owner of 10-12 well-worn Barbie dolls. They are the outcome of much begging and pleading with my parents and their many unsuccessful attempts at getting me to stop sucking my thumb. Barbie was fascinating to me because she was a woman, not a baby like my other dolls. My sister and I spent hours creating complex "grown-up" scenarios with Barbie and her counterparts. Although I have fond memories of those afternoons of make-believe, I am now a more consciences adult aware of Barbie's shortcomings as such a powerful cultural icon. Although some people would call Barbie a feminist due to her multiple careers and her independent, fun-loving personality, I now see that Barbie’s unrealistic body size, her association with consumerism, and her potent sexuality make her a negative and harmful American icon.

Barbie was conceived in 1959 by Ruth Handler (Green, A. 1/2). While on vacation in Germany, Ruth found a novelty dolled named Bild Lilly that inspired her to create a toy doll unlike the typical baby dolls found in American homes. Bild Lilly was a doll of a mature woman, with an emphasis on her sexuality, that could be found entertaining men in bars all over Germany. She is described as "loose, immoral, gold-digging, and provocative" (Matheny 1/3). "Barbie had shallow beginnings. Little do people know that before she was a beauty queen, she was a prostitute" (Matheny 2/3).

Despite people's skepticism that an adult doll could be successful, Handler's "Barbie" has become a very lucrative and popular item. Early advertisements claimed that Barbie "could teach a little girl to become a lovely lady" (Matheny 3/3). The first doll cost $3, had "limp" black hair, and didn't smile (Layman 319). Ken, Barbie's notorious male counterpart, was introduced in 1961 (Green, A. 1/2) and Mattel came out with a wedding ensemble for the happy couple in 1965 (Layman 319).

Over the years, many family members and friends have been added to the Barbie line. Barbie's immediate family includes her four sisters -- Skipper, Stacie, Kelley, and Tutti, -- and her brother, Todd. Barbie also has two cousins, Francie and Jazzie...

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