Barbie in the Eyes of a Feminist
The “Magic Curl Barbie Commercial” by Mattel is a text that contains multiple problematic messages when viewed through the lens of Feminist criticism.
To begin with, the commercial creates an obviously false binary in beauty—only straight hair or curly hair are considered “beautiful”, and in fact, only these two options are possible when altering Barbie’s look. This is to say that any other possible combination of hair colour, length, or style is deemed undesirable and less than beautiful. This is evidenced by the fact that variables such as hair length, colour, style, or for that matter, even other physical attributes such as height, physique, or skin tone cannot be manipulated by the user which suggests that these traits are considered standards of beauty and must remain constant and unchanging. It comes as no coincidence, then, that the two children in the commercial are both white, have long, light coloured hair that is either straight or curly, which in many ways parallels the very standard or status quo of beauty that the Barbie doll represents and upholds. This idealization of the Barbie doll figure creates an unrealistic expectation of how girls ought to look, which creates a sort of “toxic body-image consciousness” in adolescent girls that negatively influences their self-perception and self-esteem as they continuously compare themselves to this standard.
What’s more, the video takes away from individualization and the sense of “self”. Rather than teaching the viewer to embrace the subtle nuances that make an individual unique, and extolling virtues of self-acceptance and self-love, the commercial insists on an “ideal self” that everyone should strive for. This is further evidenced by the fact that the creator of Barbie, Ruth Handler, admitted in a recent interview that she included a “How to Lose Weight” self-help book in a Barbie advertisement (Williams, 2019) to “give the young girls an idea of the ideal beauty standard”. This status quo model of beauty subliminally delivers the sentiment that women can not be beautiful if they do not look a certain way, and in doing so, pushes the harmful and limiting ideology that a woman must alter herself to cater towards a standard of beauty that centers male desire.
Lastly, the use of Barbie to portray this unrealistic standard of beauty as described above represents the literal objectification of women as the female figure is being transmuted into a physical doll from where her physical features are being manipulated to satisfy a particular need or ideal for beauty. In the video, one of the girls claims that “Barbie likes [her hair] curly”, while the other girl claims “Ken likes [her hair] straighter”. In this clash of preferences, Ken’s preference trumps Barbie’s preference when the girls opt to change Barbie’s hair back to straight. The fact that Ken’s opinion of Barbie was enough to influence her change in hairstyle conveys the message that the male preference/opinion ought to take precedence over a woman’s own preference/opinions of herself, acting as an insult to feminism. This creates the effect of not only openly inviting the male gaze but actually perpetuating it and making it socially acceptable as it suggests how Barbie is the “male idealization of the female human body” and that the male perspective should dominate.
All in all, this Barbie doll commercial creates a falsified image in the minds of young girls. It is these exact commercials that distort the real definition of beauty, and although children begin to lose interest in Barbie dolls when hitting their preteens, this idealization of the Barbie figure instills subliminal messages, standards, and values in them that will shape the way they view the world and themselves in the future.
Williams, A. June 3, 2019. Why Barbie is a Feminist. i-D. Vice.
Retrieved from https://i-d.vice.com/en_us/article/a3xnbz/why-barbie-is-a-feminist-yes-really.
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