We Need To Talk About Petite Barbie
I am ashamed at both the manufacturers of Barbie, and myself. And I'm going to tell you why.
Last year, Mattel, the manufacturers of the original 1959 Barbie doll, decided it was time to introduce new body types and skin colors to the classic model. Yes, 2016. Not fifteen years ago.
They ushered in a trio of new gals to the Fashionistas line, labeling them as Curvy, Tall, and, Petite.
In a video published by The New York Times, chief executive officer Jim Silver said, "We're not gonna label this is an African American, or, this is an Asian, you can just look at them and see what resembles you...or, whatever you like, and there's now something for everybody."
The idea of not labeling the dolls whatsoever enticed me. It invoked in me a feeling of pride from a deep and strange place, and I was excited to see some different depictions of the female body aside from the classic Barbie proportions. Except...
What I saw in pictures from the stores disappointed me. There, in the top corner of each doll's packaging, I saw a label. So she's not African American, but she's petite? And she's not Asian, BUT, she's tall. And no, we're not calling attention to the fact that she's white, but, she is curvy. That we can see, and it's important enough for us to call attention to.
We were able to lose one label, but not without getting a new one slapped on us in exchange. We swapped out racism for sizism. We swapped out one prejudice for another.
As a petite woman, you could say I felt short-changed, pun intended. But that's not due to any lack of confidence on my part—I've struggled with my height in the past, but I cherish it now.
My mind drifted away from my computer for a moment, and I wondered if there would ever be a time when a woman would step into a room and be acknowledged for anything other than what could be seen of her.
As I continued reading, however, I learned something that suddenly made me re-evaluate my own judgements of the dolls.
Since 1959, Barbie has held over 180 careers, from astronaut, to pilot and scientist. And in 2016, President. Barbie had been holding traditionally male-dominated careers fields even before actual women were, yet, here I was focused on her physical attributes.
Was I just another cog in the large, dysfunctional societal system that was elevating discussions of physicality above that of intellect? Was I a part of the cultural rhetoric that so often placed me in inferior positions to men, without reason?
Of course, dolls can't actually have careers, and that fact in itself cheapens the idea of a female doll holding a prestigious role in society, perhaps reducing it entirely to a glib act and a frivolous costume. Looking at it from this perspective feels degrading, all over again.
Still, what I had expected to feel liberating feels wrong when I look at the photos of petite Barbie.
Perhaps it is because Barbie espouses contradicting messages. She tells me that I can become whoever I want: I can be successful—even more so than some of my male counterparts—and I can earn an equivalent salary. The sky is the limit.
But only if I am beautiful, and sexy.
This is the message that undermines the entire concept of Barbie being a career girl: That in order to be one, one must also be beautiful, or, in the very least, care obsessively about one's appearance. Beauty, the ultimate achievement.
Whether that incongruity comes from the manufactures, or some insecurity nestled deep within myself, I do not know.