GENERATIONS of children have enjoyed Barbie dolls. But after 60 years, is US toy firm Mattel’s blonde bombshell past her prime?
Recent film Barbie Princess Adventure is trending on Netflix but has raised eyebrows among parents who say the character is outdated and sexist.
One critic said the film – which sees a vlogger Barbie trade places with a princess – “doesn’t have depth”. Another called it “extremely shallow”.
So is Barbie stuck in the past or does she still have a future?
Parenting expert Tanith Carey and former Page 3 girl Nicola McLean give their views.
PARENTING books author Tanith Carey – mum to daughters Lily, 19, and 15-year-old Clio says…
In the opening scenes of the biggest kids’ movie of the year, a pretty blonde teen in a princess dress is seen being powdered and primped for a photoshoot.
Within the first minute, the model is twice told by her team of make-up artists and stylists that she’s “gorgeous” and mustn’t have a hair out of place for the cameras.
So begins Barbie Princess Adventure, now a Netflix hit with millions of young children as parents struggle to keep them entertained in lockdown.
Barbie, now restyled as a vlogger living in Malibu, is just the latest incarnation of the 11in plastic doll.
For decades, she has been in the frame for presenting a particularly narrow stereotype of female beauty.
True, Barbie has made progress since the Sixties when she came with a tiny set of pink scales, always set on 110lb, as well as a diet book with the advice “Don’t eat!”.
Barbie now also comes with a more diverse group of friends, including some with more realistically proportioned limbs.
And in case her choice of career as an influencer in this film sounds a little superficial, we are told Barbie is actually trying to stand up to the pressure to look perfect on social media – and find her authentic voice.
Yet it seems some things never change. In the film, Barbie is the Queen Bee of her friendship group, with a dream lifestyle, who always has boys falling at her feet.
So the main message pre-school and young primary kids take away is not the film’s “girl power” message, which is likely to fly over their heads.
It’s the most obvious visual one – that pretty blonde girls with thin bodies get the most attention.
Even though her body has been revamped, recent experiments have found Barbie’s proportions are still nowhere near the norm.
If she was scaled up to being the size of the average real woman, her waist would still be no more than 20in, compared with the UK average of 33in.
Naturally, as a parenting writer and mother of two girls, I know plenty of mums who say letting kids play with Barbies is harmless fun.
But the evidence has found the damaging messages run far deeper.
One study in the journal Developmental Psychology found that when girls aged five to eight were shown pictures of Barbies, compared to more realistically sized dolls, they wanted to be thinner afterwards.
Another experiment, in the journal Sex Roles, found girls are more likely to eat less after playing with thinner dolls.
Barbie has become so much of a stereotypical ideal of the way women should look, she even has her own disorder – Barbie syndrome.
This describes women with a pathological need to get the doll’s body shape, often through plastic surgery and extreme dieting.
But her unattainable shape is just one of many negative messages our daughters get, as they grow up, about how they should look.
Half of three to six-year-old girls say they are already worried about being fat, reports the British Psychological Association.
So rather than sit them down in front of Barbie on Netflix, shouldn’t we parents be questioning if this is really the healthiest entertainment for young kids?
Instead, it seems the real winner is Barbie’s manufacturer, Mattel.
Sales of Barbie and her lifestyle accessories – which include a Barbie Dreamhouse for no less than £229.99 – have soared by more than 20 per cent since Barbie Princess Adventure was released last autumn.
But while the firm’s pretty pink cash registers keep on ringing, my question is: What longer-term price are our children paying?
- Tanith Carey is author of Girls Uninterrupted: Steps For Building Stronger Girls In A Challenging World, published by Icon.
NICOLA McLEAN, mum to sons Rocky, 14, and ten-year-old Striker, says…
I WILL not have it said that Barbie, or this movie Barbie Princess Adventure, are sexist.
When I was a little girl, I had the full Barbie house and was obsessed with it.
I loved this perfect-looking doll with amazing hair that I could brush.
I was fascinated by her boobs, too, and knew from a young age that if I didn’t have big ones, I’d want to get them.
I’ve since gone under the knife and made a career from having Barbie-like boobs.
But none of this took away from the fact I was also intelligent, sporty and loved playing football.
Loving Barbie didn’t limit my outlook one bit and I worry for parents who think she is somehow going to make their daughter less independent or less body-confident.
If you believe that, you are doing something very wrong. She’s a doll, for God’s sake.
Early in the film, Barbie corrects her sister when she says princesses cannot use swords.
She tells her people can be anything they want – an astronaut, a pop star or a train driver.
And it’s true. I was an Army cadet from the age of 11 and when I started as a glamour model I was still a cadet.
So I’d spend the day being totally glam, loving life in my underwear on photoshoots, then I’d come home and change into my Army uniform – which was ironed by my dad, not my mum – and run to the barracks. You don’t have to do just one thing in life.
I think people who hate Barbie are snowflakes. Yes, her perfect body is unrealistic, but a fat Barbie wouldn’t set a good example either.
Sadly, all the controversy surrounding her and the movie is just another excuse to complain about females.
For me, as a feminist, it’s all about allowing women to have a choice.
It’s great that we now have Barbies of different ethnicities.
The dolls come in a range of body shapes and have a variety of different careers, too.
You can even buy dolls who are bald, in wheelchairs and have prosthetic limbs, which is so inclusive.
If we cancel Barbie, are we going to start banning people like Pamela Anderson, who’s my absolute idol?
She’s an amazing woman, an activist who does great things in her personal life – just like Barbie.
Making Barbie a vlogger in the movie makes her relatable and it’s great that she uses her vlog to inspire people like Princess Amelia, who feels trapped and can’t be herself.
It also shows women working together and lifting one another up, which sets a great example to kids.
To parents who are worried Barbie is a bad influence, I’d say it’s not her place to influence your kids – it’s up to you to be your kids’ role model.
If I had daughters rather than my two boys, I’d be more than happy for them to play with Barbie, just like I’d be more than happy for them to join the Army.
People and brands evolve with the times and, while Barbie may have been a bit of a Stepford Wife in other eras, 21st Century Barbie is woke and for everyone. She’s an icon.
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