Growing up, Barbie made me feel like I could do anything. Barbie was an astronaut, a teacher, a firefighter, a police officer, a pilot, a paleontologist, a business executive, a veterinarian, a pediatrician, a Nascar driver, a movie star, and a rock star. She was even President!
Being extremely accomplished and versatile in all her chosen careers, Barbie was completely independent and did not need to rely on a man to take care of her. In fact, Barbie’s boyfriend, Ken, doesn’t even have boy parts. I can’t think of anything more feminist than having a boyfriend who has been castrated. We definitely know who wears the pants in that relationship! It was Barbie, not Ken, who owned the Malibu Dream House and the Pink Corvette (which, according to all the pictures I’ve seen, I don’t think he was ever even allowed to drive). Barbie was gorgeous, successful, and also looked like she was having the time of her life.
My own mother grew up poor and had always wanted but never owned a Barbie of her own, so she made sure my sister and I were part of the popular Barbie culture. I’ll never forget the Christmas that Santa brought me my Barbie Dream House. I have pictures of me hugging the home with a huge smile on my face. I also had a Malibu Surf Shop where Barbie and Midge could rent rollerblades to skate along the beach. I owned an ice cream shop where Barbie could hang with her friends and also a stage where she could perform with her band, the Rockers. Decades later, little girls are still loving their Barbie dolls. My niece squealed with delight when she opened up the mermaid Barbie I bought her for Christmas last year. I would never give my niece a toy that I felt would affect her self-esteem in any way.
The main criticism of Barbie is that her unrealistic body proportions are blamed for causing self-esteem issues in young girls. The original Barbie doll was a fashion model, which explains the long legs, large bust and tiny waist. Clothes tend to look best on this body type, and part of the fun of playing with Barbie was dressing her in fabulous outfits. At the time Barbie was created in 1959 by Ruth Handler, most dolls were babydolls and little girls would play with them acting out the role of a mother. Barbie broke traditional roles, representing a woman who had more choices than being a wife and mother. She was the first doll that wasn’t a baby, a child or a cartoon character. She was a full grown glamorous, cosmopolitan career woman, which girls like me found very exciting, imagining what we would be like when we grew up. However, I never once compared my body to Barbie–I knew she was just a doll. Rather than fixating on her figure, I was more focused on how I would someday get the Malibu Dream House.
Interestingly enough, according to the American Association of University Women, girls begin to lose their self-esteem during puberty, which coincidentally is also the time they give up their Barbies. I think all girls naturally become more self-conscious of their bodies during puberty, which has more to do with our bodies developing and changing, and less to do with Barbie. Although I didn’t compare my body to my Barbie dolls, I do remember being about ten years old and noticing that most of the girls in my class were thinner than I was. I also admired the very glamorous Supermodels of the ‘90s, and hoped one day I would be as beautiful as Cindy Crawford. It was lucky for me, and girls everywhere who also loved Cindy, that she came out with her very own workout video, helping women everywhere to shape their bodies. Although I never grew to be 5’9 like Cindy, I exercised to the video religiously every day in my living room and learned to eat healthy, taking control and being proactive about my body issues. Today I am a professional Pilates instructor, helping other people achieve their fitness goals and work through similar issues.
On a side note, models and fashion magazines are also often criticized for contributing to the issues we women have with our bodies, and I believe they definitely do have an influence on us. Some women feel threatened or pressured to look a certain way when they see images in magazines, but I appreciate and feel inspired by beauty, knowing that I will never be as thin as Kate Moss, but maybe that color lipstick or dress she’s wearing will look good on me. I would argue that the very business savvy Cindy Crawford, who also happened to be the valedictorian of her high school class, was a feminist like Barbie, smart and beautiful with a message of empowerment for girls everywhere.
Before I get back to Barbie, I do want to mention that I believe beauty comes in all shapes and ethnicities. Barbie, tall and blonde, is just one example of beauty. Being half-Latina, I’m happy to see Barbie is now offered in several different ethnicities. Growing up, my sister had a Mexican Barbie she loved and identified with more than the blonde dolls. Since I don’t have Barbie’s proportions, I am thankful to curvy girls like J. Lo, Kim Kardashian, and Beyonce who have made being “bootylicious,” something I was once ashamed of, quite fashionable now.
The definition of a feminist is a person who advocates equal rights for women. Nowhere does the term specify what a feminist should look or dress like. So please don’t hate Barbie because she’s beautiful. If Barbie was judged solely on her resume, I think everyone would agree with me that she is indeed a feminist. She has done so much more to inspire and empower me than any of my other childhood toys, and she happened to beautiful. Personally, I was never threatened by Barbie’s beauty or body and don’t think she is to blame for self-esteem issues. If anything, I have Barbie to thank for my fascination with all things Malibu, which may have subconsciously led me to my Pepperdine education. Thank you, Barbie, for all the memories and making me feel like the possibilities for my future were endless♥
**Originally published on missamycakes.com 2014**