Monday, February 1, 2016

Teach Your Children Well

What are we teaching our children?  The question came up again with the latest announcement from Mattel about the new look of Barbie.  The doll has been re-engineered with three body shapes and a choice of 30 hair colors, 22 eye colors and seven skin tones in response to recently slumping sales.

Barbie dolls have been around for 57 years.  Before that girls would play with baby dolls and Raggedy Ann.  They would all sit around the table drinking tea with the Teddy Bear.

But when Barbie (invented by a woman) came along, mothers and feminists were (and still are) outraged that the proportions were so unrealistic.  If their daughters grew up wanting to look like Barbie, they were in for a big disappointment and possibly psychological problems.  I don’t think girls before 1959 dreamed of growing up to look like Raggedy Ann (or the Teddy Bear), but apparently Barbie changed the paradigm and the focus from tea parties to fashion.

The protests over Barbie seemed to have little impact as Mattel has sold more than a billion dolls over the years.  But when Barbie-related sales dropped to a point just over $1 billion annually in 2014, something had to be done!

Today we live in a more enlightened age.  We are all about diversity and tolerance.  People of all shapes and sizes, different colors, different religions and different preferences populate the world.  They all fit in. We are not supposed to judge them by any of these factors.  They should all be accepted for who they are.

To accommodate this new mindset (and possibly to make more money) Mattel responds with the new Barbie, available in 13,860 possible configurations.  Not only does this update allow children to choose a more realistic looking Barbie, it allows them to get one that looks more like them, one they can aspire to look like when they grow up.  The new focus is still on fashion, but now it’s on fashion for someone “who looks like me.”

But in this new age of diversity, the haunting question is whether the message should be that our dolls (and possibly our friends, too) should look more like us.  Isn’t there a bit of intolerance hidden beneath the surface?  Of course, this apparent contradiction could be addressed by intentionally buying a Barbie that didn’t look anything like the owner – but the old Barbie would have fit that bill perfectly.

Other questions might be whether a preoccupation with fashion and whether using any doll as a role model is really healthy.  Maybe these are things more worthy of consideration by moms and feminists and more worthy of protest.

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