Monday, November 28, 2011

What Does it Take to Look Like Barbie

The above is a photo of model Katie Halchishick, and it is designed specifically to revel what changes would be necessary for her body to emulate Barbie.  In womanist/feminist circles, there has long been a debate about the false image of womanhood that Barbie represents.  I believe that Halchishick's photo represents a vivid visual encapsulation of the potential damage. 

Models are women that we uplift for supposedly representing the best of what female beauty stands for, and if a woman as beautiful as Katie Halchishick, fails to meet that mark, what hope is there for the average woman?  The standards of female beauty have become so unrealistic, that no woman can even come close to approaching the ideal and yet the beauty and the fashion industry encourages us to spend money, time, and effort, in an attempt to conform to a ridiculous standard that is destined to be futile.

Barbie is a doll that we give to little girls to play with.  Children take time to distinguish between fantasy and play and so to them, Barbie could potentially represent reality for a time.  By the time  they are old enough to finally distinguish between fantasy and reality, the messages that we taught them  have already been ingrained and then the process can potentially begin to decolonize one's mind.  This process is by no means a journey that all young women participate in, and this is specifically one of the major reasons why Barbie is harmful.  The dolls sets up a beauty standard that no woman can possibly hope to meet. 


Every where we turn, women are are faced with impossible standards.  It manifests in the often crudely photoshopped images of girls and women and the erasure of average and plus size women from the media.  Is it any wonder that so many feel compelled to have plastic surgery, count calories and engage in harmful binging and purging behaviour?  No one thing can be dismissed as a factor in the causation of this behaviour. They each work together to create woman as almost a fictional character within her own body.

Quite often when Barbie comes up as a subject, women are told that she is just a harmless doll, and that we are making too much out of her potential effect on the body image of girls and young women.  What is this but a bid for us to simmer down and accept this conditioning as natural.  Not all women are naturally concerned with adhering to beauty standards; however, one thing is certain, all cis women from birth are trained in someway that to be understood as women, adherence and conformity is necessary, no matter what the personal cost to us may be.

I have an infant niece, and as I shop for Christmas gifts for her this year, the one thing I am highly aware of us is how gender is specifically marketed to young girls. It is extremely difficult to find something that isn't pink, or about beauty and nurturing.  This is because socially, many believe that the only value of a woman is her physical appearance or her ability to act as a caretaker, and not her intelligence. This of course maintains the sexist divide between men and women.


Socially, the refrain what about the children is commonplace, and yet when it really counts, children are considered secondary beings at best.  Countless hours of research have gone into barbie and her negative effects on the self esteem of girl and women, yet there she sits on just about every toy shelf in various incarnations.  Some have argued that because Barbie has a job, and is financially independent, that she actually represents a positive to young girls, but for that to be true, one has to ignore her physical appearance.  Before we can even get to what Barbie does for a living, we have to confront what her body represents. because that is the very first thing that a child will notice and internalize.

I know that for some,  buying a Barbie girl is about choice, but to me it is act of harm.  Everyday women choose to do things that are extremely unhealthy for them, because they have internalized a large degree of sexism, but that does not mean we should endorse something as harmful as barbie for the sake of supporting choice.  She is not a simple doll, and she plays a role on a daily basis of young girls accepting unhealthy and unrealistic body standards.  There is no nurture vs nature debate, there is only nurture when it comes to this doll.  The picture of Katie Halchishick truly says a thousand words.

H/T Hoyden About Town