Sisterhood Blog

Bye, Bye Barbie?

By Elissa Strauss

  • Print
  • Share Share

Getty Images

When Ruth Handler created Barbie in the mid ‘50s, she tapped into a fantasy of feminine perfection very particular to the mid 20th century. Those shiny blond locks, the wasp-waist, long legs and perky breasts proved irresistible to girls from all backgrounds, including Jewish ones like Barbara Handler, Ruth’s daughter and the doll’s namesake.

Now it looks like Handler’s plastic creation may be headed towards oblivion. The Daily Beast has a story by Brandy Zadrozny about how Barbie no longer captures the imaginations of young girls and why this is, obviously, a good thing. This doesn’t mean she has disappeared from the shelves of your local toy store yet, but sales have been declining for over a decade now and there are no signs of recovery.

Zadrozny chronicles the evolution and missteps (“Math class is tough!”) of Barbie over the last 55 years and points out that the phasing out of Barbie has as much to do with little girls growing bored as it does with everyone having enough with the unrealistic beauty standards she projects. A study from 2006 shows that introducing girls to Barbie at an early age can do long-lasting harm to their body image, and a more recent one shows that girls who play with Barbie are less professionally ambitious.

When Handler started Barbie it was because she wanted to give her daughter a doll who represented a woman instead of a girl. She thought it was important for girls’ self-esteem to be exposed to play with a doll with womanly features like breasts, and modeled her toy after a German doll that was meant as a gag gift for adults. This, combined with the fact that Handler later went on to found a company that created more realistic-looking breast prosthesis (following a mastectomy of her own), leads to me believe that the creation of Barbie was more of attempt of body acceptance and even sex-positivity for young girls that we give her credit for. She wanted girls to project their adult fantasies on dolls that had the secondary sex characteristics (albeit impossible, exaggerated ones) of actual adult women.

”If she was going to do role playing of what she would be like when she was 16 or 17, it was a little stupid to play with a doll that had a flat chest. So I gave it beautiful breasts,” Handler told the New York Times in 1977.

As the years went on the Barbie line came out with more racially diverse group. There are black Barbies, Latino Barbies and Asian ones too. Yet, none of these could dismantle the hegemony the blond one had on our ideals of beauty. Also, all of them were cut from the same ridiculous mold.

The fact that the lines of dolls that are displacing Barbie are more ethnically diverse suggests that we have finally arrived at a time where our notions of beauty better reflect what we actually look like. Maybe if Handler was creating a doll today, she would create someone a little more Semitic looking for her daughter to play with. Odds are that little Barbie would have preferred it that way.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels.
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.