Plus Size Barbie Politics
Recently a Facebook group asked its followers what they thought of a Plus Size Barbie.
Though the mock-up (see above) got the thumbs up from over 40,000 people, several thousand others left comments disparaging the look or "message" a fat Barbie might send.
Barbie was invented in 1959 and has since become a touchstone of American culture and feminist discourse, with many arguing that the doll in its current form promotes an impossible ideal.
My relationship to Barbie in childhood was characterized by desire, admiration and the implicit knowledge that she was more than a doll with great boobs. One year for my birthday I was given a Barbie knock-off with bigger feet and a longer face. I rejected that faux Barbie because she was sacrilegious in my mind.
Real Barbie was dainty. Real Barbie was perfect : white, thin, with great outfits and a cute boyfriend who loved her.
Most of my Barbie memories involve bath time (some of the only alone time I got as a little girl) and working out confusing stuff (like romance and boys) through role plays with Barbie, her crew and Ken. I knew she represented something bigger, something I was supposed to want, something I did want.
The significance of dolls in developmental psychology has been exemplified by the 1940s Clark studies in which Black children were asked to choose which of two dolls - one black, one white - they prefered and overwhelmingly chose the white doll. This study was conducted again in 2006 with similar results. Dolls seem to play the role of confirming - among other things - cultural ideals, which can be internalized and potentially affect long-term ideas of self worth and belonging.
Barbie functions to showcase and teach children a kind of ideal American femininity. This ideal has been called into question as recently as last year.
Nikki Minaj's recent comandeering of the Barbie name and logo indicates the potential for Barbie to be critiqued, re-envisioned, and reclaimed. Likewise, Plus Size Barbie - and the anxiety she has drummed up online - serves to remind us that we are talking about much more than a plastic toy.
Make no mistake that Plus Size Barbie debate represents much more than a battle over the proportions of a doll but what American ideals of femininity are and will be.
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12/30/2013 04:43:46 am
This is spot on! I love it and I want to get your book.
12/30/2013 09:27:58 am
I think the plus-size Barbie is an interesting idea. But they didn't have to give her such an exaggerated chin. Her face could have been still "plus-size" with big cheeks and a dropped chin without any rolls... We are still beautiful, and most "think chicks" don't have a quadruple chin.
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Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.