Has Barbie got better in 2013?

The Barbie <i>Race to the Party</i> board game from Mattel.

The Barbie Race to the Party board game from Mattel.

On Christmas Eve, Michelle Obama was reported saying, "When I was little I loved Barbie dolls. I was a big Barbie doll kid, and every Christmas I got a new Barbie. One year I got the Barbie townhouse and the camper.  It was very exciting".

I was a little surprised when I heard Ms Obama providing a free White House endorsement for Mattel’s product. Barbie’s obscene spending habits may be the only thing to jump-start the US economy, but didn’t the First Lady get the memo that the controversial doll and her whole pink infested lifestyle is a disgrace to the sisterhood?

But then I recalled a chance meeting with a Mattel marketing exec. "Barbie is a feminist doll," she explained to me while we watched our kids take their first swimming lessons.

Since I’d only just met the woman and we were making polite conversation, I resisted the urge to throw my head back and howl with laughter. Instead I bit my tongue.


The Marketing Manager took this as a cue to elaborate on Barbie’s feminist credentials. For example Barbie is apparently a great role model for little girls because she has a career.

Call me a skeptic, but I find this about as convincing as Ken’s hair. While it’s true that Barbie has had any number of careers, it’s also true that Barbie has a BMI of an anorexic stick insect, the proportional leg and neck length of a giraffe, and is as materialistic as a socialite with obsessive consumption disorder.

I’m all for professional role models for girls, but Barbie ain’t it. In fact, career Barbies are perhaps the most toxic of all of the freaky species. The message is that girls can be vets, dentists, or engineers — just as long as they are also hot, perpetually youthful, and have the time and disposable income to coordinate their campervan with their pony.

And adding the cheesy slogan ‘If you can dream it, you can be it’ doesn’t turn Barbie into Gloria Steinem. It just gives our girls one more thing to fail at. No matter how hard girls ‘dream’, not a single one of them is going to look like this.  Not only have they failed at being thin and beautiful like Barbie, they’re also monumentally rubbish at manifesting stuff out of thin air — a la The Secret.

The day after the First Lady was singing Barbie’s praises, my daughter received a Barbie Race To The Party board game as a Christmas present. Despite the assurances from Mattel’s marketing exec, about the only career this game would prepare my daughter for is a Kardashian.

For those of you who are blissfully ignorant of Mattel’s Feminism For Beginners board game, the rules reveal quite a lot about what the makers of Barbie understand by ‘feminism’.

The object of the game is as follows: ‘Players have to collect a fab outfit before they get to the party at the end of the board.’ To attain this worthy goal, the game even comes complete with ATM cards.  

And the little feminists-in-training can learn character-building life lessons by losing turns because, ‘Your shoes don’t match your outfit!’.  Fortunately, the lucky girl who snags a guy with a convertible (but no genitals — even Barbie, it seems, can’t have it all), can leave her sisters to eat dust. Or, as the game cards put it,  ‘Ken gives you a lift directly to the nearest store!’

At three, my daughter genuinely believes she is capable of anything. Her identity and ambitions have not yet been limited by the imposter syndrome, peer pressure, or even the laws or physics.

On any given day she will plan to fly to the moon, cure sick animals, or right injustices with her magic wand — and that’s before lunch. Why would we choose to shackle our children’s imaginations and dreams with games that encourage them to shop for ‘fab outfits’ in order to gain social acceptance and entry to a party?

Thanks for caring Mattel, but before you nominate yourself for Young Feminist of the Year, I’ll wager that our kids are going to get the hang of gratuitous consumption all on their own. 

And every time our girls leave the house they’re assaulted with messages about artificial standards of beauty and their worth as people. For every Michelle Obama, there are thousands of girls who have self-esteem crushing body hatred, are lining up for boob jobs in increasing numbers, and claim that they would rather win Next Top Model than a Nobel Prize.

I’m not suggesting Barbie is the sole cause of this catastrophe, but giving girls toys that focus on unattainable standards of beauty and superficiality cannot be helpful.

So rather than add to this burden, I’m putting Race to the Party where it belongs: in the pink trash compactor. 

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com