Barbie’s Sales-Motivated Makeover

So Barbie, that iconic doll from Mattel, is now 57 years old and she just got a makeover.

Barbie is the first fashion doll with a three-dimensional adult form. She is the first doll with breasts! Before her, girls played with baby dolls and paper dolls.

Barbie became the standard of how females should look like — thin, tiny waist, big breasts, long blonde hair, long legs, pretty with a perpetual smile on her face, pointed toes of feet always wearing high heels, and, of course, white. I think Barbie is also the inspiration for “dumb blonde” jokes because the expression on her face is always blank.

But starting January 28 this year, Barbie also comes in three new bodies — tall, petite, and curvy. Reportedly, this change is motivated by Barbie’s dropping sales in recent years (it used to be that Mattel sells a new Barbie every three seconds). Frozen’s Elsa is now the favorite doll of little girls. So Mattel must have followed Elsa’s advice in her famous song: “Let it go, let it go! And I’ll rise like the break of dawn. Let it go, let it go! That perfect girl is gone!” Because why else would this top-secret, two-years-in-the-making Barbie makeover be called “Project Dawn,” right?

I never had a Barbie growing up. My mom never got me one. No aunt or godmother or family friend gave me one. I don’t know why. People in my life always gave me books to read or notebooks to write on. I remember having only two dolls then — a brown, chubby baby doll with dark short straight hair with bangs I named “Dolly” and a mother rocking her sleeping baby set named Jane and Jenny. I hardly played with them. That’s probably why nobody got me dolls.

When I was old enough to have godchildren of my own, it never occurred to me to get them Barbies. Even if they begged for it. I just could not see the use of having a fashion doll. What purpose does it even serve? How interesting can a game of dress up be? So I always gave them books and toys that make them think and imagine and create.

It’s not even about Barbie’s unrealistic body and look. It is irrelevant what color, size and shape a doll comes in. For me, fashionable clothes and makeup just seemed a very small preoccupation for a child when she or he could explore so much more in the world.  I believe people are remembered more for what they actually did rather than what they wore doing it.

Even when fashion models die, tributes about them always go beyond how fabulous they looked in what dress or how gorgeous their faces and bodies were, although these are mentioned, too. What made them deserve a tribute is how their lives were lived and how well they loved and how human they were.

In those ridiculous awards ceremonies, sure, so much fuss is given to who wore what as they walked the red carpet. But who actually won awards is the much bigger deal. Yes, she may have worn an ugly gown and looked fat in it, but she got to get up the stage to give that acceptance speech for accomplishing something that had to do with talent, skill, and hard work.

Beauty contests these days seem to be more than beauty and fashion, too. Candidates are expected to have talent, intelligence, and a cause related to making the world a better place. “Beauty with a purpose,” as one contest tag line puts it. The implication being beauty is basically useless without something else more meaningful and relevant.

Barbie had several makeovers through the years. She played a career executive, an astronaut, a rock star, a military officer, a presidential candidate, a professional athlete, an American Idol, even an Ambassador for UNICEF. And she was a computer engineer with a hot pink computer. Barbie played powerful roles but always looked fashionable and pretty while playing them.

And that is what bothers me about Barbie. It is hard to take her seriously because she is just playing a role with the clothes she wears. It is all projection. Barbie has no interesting story. She does not have character. She only has fabulous clothes and makeup to make her be whatever she can be. Faking it with her appearance. But we know deep within she’s still the same Barbie. Just a plastic doll who models clothes, hairstyles, and makeup. Nothing more.

Having a tall, petite and curvy Barbie just means getting a more diverse customer base to be preoccupied with dressing up and looking good. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, if it is the only thing going for you, then it does not make you a very interesting person worth knowing.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, February 4, 2016