Cultural Criticism: Barbie Essay

1844 words - 8 pages

Barbie, a doll manufactured by Mattel, Inc., encourages an unrealistic body image, racial insensitivity, and contradictive goals, and it is having a negative influence on young girls everywhere. Launched in March 1959 by Ruth Handler, an American business woman and president of Mattel, Inc., Barbie quickly became popular and has gone on to sell three dolls every second, in over one hundred and fifty countries. However, Barbie’s rise to success has not been wholly positive – there have been numerous controversies, parodies, and lawsuits, all addressing a number of issues. One such issue is how Barbie promotes an unrealistic and unobtainable body image. For example, to scale, Barbie is five feet, nine inches tall, has a thirty six inch chest, eighteen inch waist, and thirty three inch hips. Had Barbie been a real person, she would not be able to walk, much less hold her head up. Secondly, Barbie is racially insensitive and perpetuates stereotypes. “Mexico Barbie,” from Barbie’s “ethnic” line, comes with a passport and a Chihuahua, as well as stereotypical red lace ribbons in her hair. Lastly, Barbie portrays goals that are both unobtainable and contradictive. Barbie has had a variety of careers, such as being a doctor, astronaut, and President of the United States, but also engages in stereotypical domestic activities, such as cleaning and baking. These characteristics are affecting young girls in a time when they are most developmentally susceptible, and teaching them a number of negative lessons.
Barbie was first launched in March 1959, after Ruth Handler, president of Mattel, Inc., went on a trip to Europe and discovered a unique German doll, “Bild Lilli.” The aforementioned doll was special in that she was an adult, whereas many dolls of that time were portrayals of infants. It is important to mention that young girls with infant dolls often serve as their caretakers, but young girls with adult dolls often see them as role models – a potentially dangerous transformation, should the role model impart negative values over positive ones. Bild Lilli originated from a German comic strip that was often sexual or provocative in nature. For example, one such comic strip displayed a police officer telling Bild Lilli, who was wearing a two-piece-swimsuit, that two-piece-swimsuits were banned, to which she replied, “Which piece do you want me to take off?” After bringing the idea back to the United States, Ruth Handler created Barbie and began to showcase her. From there, Barbie gained massive amounts of popularity, her influence spreading to roughly one hundred and fifty countries. Worth billions of dollars, there are three Barbies sold every second. Many controversies have accompanied this rise in fame, even from the very beginning. Parents were unhappy with Barbie’s breast size from the start, and from there many more complaints have blossomed.
Barbie’s physical characteristics promote an unrealistic and unobtainable body image that is exceedingly...

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