Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
WASHINGTON, November 18, 1997 --
A w, say it ain't so! Mattel's decision to re-cast its American Icon, Barbie, into a doll with more "realistic" proportions is a stealth blow to heterosexual men all over the world. Little girls likely will not notice the difference. It's grown men that will suffer from the fallout.
Sadly, very few guys appreciate the serious ramifications of this change. Sure, we don't spend much time ogling dolls in toy stores, but those little girls do. And "little girls get bigger every day," as Peter Sellers aptly put it. As they grow into young women, their images of beauty undoubtedly will be affected by the proportions of the most popular toy in America. The young women of the future will be more apt to emulate the look of the new Barbie. That new Barbie looks... different.
The consensus of Barbie watches is that the relative proportions of the existing Barbie doll is 38-18-34. Unrealistic? Maybe. Hubba, hubba? Absolutely! If you're going to have a doll with unrealistic dimensions, you might as well make her as curvaceous as possible.
The new doll's measurements haven't been given, but pictures released by Mattel clearly show that she's less trim in the middle and is narrower at the hips and the chest. Mattel acknowledges that the old proportions are unrealistic, but insist that feminist criticism of these dimensions had nothing to do with the change. The new Barbie is being given a more modern look, they say.1
They've got that right. When you combine the aforementioned changes with Barbie's continued towering stature, you end up with a small-scale reproduction of a fashion magazine waif. I wouldn't be surprised if the new doll's anatomic details included protruding ribs. Thus, Mattel is perpetuating the 1990s disease in the women's fashion industry that idealizes not just boyish figures but an almost anorexic appearance.
Feminists have resoundingly denounced this trend since the beginning of the decade with Susie Orbach's Fat is a Feminist Issue and Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth. This criticism typically implicates men. Wolf, for example, argues that men's magazines like Playboy and Sports Illustrated perpetuate unrealistic images of women's bodies.
While this may be true, these images are totally different -- and far healthier -- than those perpetuated by the female-controlled fashion industry. Men, to a nearly universal degree, do not prefer the 98-pound runway waif, but instead idealize the far healthier-looking, curvaceous centerfold. Feminists, on the other hand, perpetuate the myth that a "normal" woman looks like most in America today. Over 35 percent of these "normal" women are overweight -- putting them at increased risk for numerous obesity-related diseases like diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer.2
Now, I'm not going to claim that my preference for women who look like Barbie over sickly clothing models and flabby feminists has anything to do with heath. My true motivation is far less honorable. But the simple truth is that the physical image idealized by men is far more healthy than that proposed by either mainstream women or the feminist movement.
Unfortunately, men's desires long have been on the losing end of vogue. Breast implants first went out of style in the late 1980s, and were further stigmatized by the health scare early in this decade. Women's figures were further flattened by the rise of the annorexia craze of the 1990s. Barbie's defection to the enemy camp is only the latest debacle in a long series of defeats.
The only hope remains in the hands of the little girls. Mattel said that some of the more glamorous specialty models of Barbie will continue to use the traditional curvaceous body even after the new Barbie phase-in. When that time comes, girls will have the power to sway the market in men's favor by exercising a preference the older model. Even if they don't, there's nothing to prevent fathers from exercising a little consumer activism when purchasing gifts for their daughters.
If we men stick together, we can make the new Barbie the biggest
marketing flop since new Coke. If we win, we will ensure the
idealization of the big boobed Barbie for generations to come.