Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Barbie and the Spread of Bulimia

The latest edition of Newsweek has a story on Barbie turning 50 years old next month. I wish I could celebrate this 50th anniversary as much as I did the anniversary of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. But while Kind of Blue seems to me to be a cultural good of great enduring value, I don't think I can say the same for Barbie.

In the article, Eliza Gray writes,

"In her half century of existence, Barbie has become something of a Rorschach test for views about modern feminine identity. Either she's a sunny, self-confident, good-time girl—Doris Day in miniature—or, more commonly, she's the original bimbo, a relic of postwar paternalism that teaches its young owners to worship at the altar of blond hair, peach skin and formidable cleavage atop a waistline the size of a pinkie ring."

Count me in with the latter view. I wonder if the immense popularity of the Paris Hilton's and Britney Spears' of the world is a result of the same kind of corrupt thinking about women and beauty that led to the creation of the Barbie Doll. To what degree has the doll been an instrument in shaping little girls into becoming young women who think they need a certain bra size and waistline in order to be considered 'beautiful'?

It is interesting that some people criticize the Christian faith because of its' alleged oppressive attitude toward women. Beliefs like the headship of a husband over the wife and the distinction of church elder being a position only for men are said to reduce the value and dignity of women. But I cannot imagine anything more degrading to the innate value and dignity of a woman than to tell her that unless she has 'blond hair, peach skin and formidable cleavage atop a waistline the size of a pinkie ring' she is second-class. Yet I fear that the ongoing existence of Barbie is implicitly making such a statement to little girls every day in this nation. Millions of girls are learning to regard themselves as worthless, primarily because they do not look like the Barbie doll that American culture tells them they should. That's oppression, if you ask me.

Is it possible that the cultural product known as the Barbie Doll is being used in our day to spread eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia? I hope I am not over-stating the case; I am not trying to make a blanket condemnation of all parents who have ever bought their little girl a Barbie doll. But as a father of two little girls of my own, I want to take extreme caution and be very sensitive to how the toys my girls play with are used to shape the way they think about themselves. That may mean having no Barbies in the house; it may mean being diligent to remind your children what true beauty consists of, even while they do play with Barbie. That is for the individual parent to wrestle through. But reading this article reminded me that a seemingly innocent doll can make a big impact on the thinking of little girls.

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