How Barbie became wholesome again
The original Barbie doll, made in 1959.
When asked what she wanted for her fifth birthday, my niece and God-daughter said she wanted a ‘‘beauty case’’. Some cross-checking was required. No one in the family really knew what a beauty case was, what might be found in one, or where one might be procured.
It seems she wanted some sort of vanity chest full of mirrors, tinselly lip-gloss and brightly coloured circles of eye shadow. The sort of thing that might belong to a blowsy woman in a Tennessee Williams play.
Her back-up option was a Barbie and after caucusing over the problem (Barbie or beauty case? My god she’s only five etc. etc.), her parents went with Barbie.
Barbie arrived, in all her blonde, buxom and tiny-waisted glory. She hasn’t left the clench of my niece’s fist in the weeks since. They even sleep together.
In the battle against the premature sexualisation of girls, such dilemmas must be resolved, and as a former Barbie-nut who did not grow up to become a stripper or a cast member of The Real Housewives of Beverley Hills, I don’t think the old girl does too much harm.
In fact, compared to the legions of mini-street walkers she competes with, Barbie seems almost quaint these days, a plasticky by-product of a simpler time.
Sindy, Barbie’s bulbous-headed and rather dumpy cousin, just turned 50, and her makers made her celebrate by dressing her in multi-coloured eyelash extensions and undignified leg-warmers.
Sindy and Barbie were once close rivals, but in the ‘80s Barbie nudged her out. Sindy, who was marketed as a ‘‘girl next door’’ was not sexy, her head was too big and she was stumpy and un-glamorous compared to the lithe Barbie.
But in the grand tradition of female competition, Barbie was later replaced by a younger, cuter thing when Bratz came along.
A perusal of the Bratz catalogue shows they do look like a lot like prostitutes, and not high-class ones. In addition, every ‘‘S’’ in the Bratz vocabulary is turned into a Z (there are Desert Jewelz dolls, Heartbreakerz dolls, Bratz Catz dolls etc), which is irritating and misleading for children learning to read. The latest thing, apparently, are the Monster High dolls, a collection of sluttish vampy characters from a television cartoon.
All the dolls have names which could double as porn monikers: Venus McFlytrap, Purrrsephone, Meowlody. They are dressed in the Lady Gaga style, where trousers and skirts are optional. Compared to these miniature harlots, Barbie seems wholesome.
She has interests, including horse-riding, cycling, swimming and driving her various vehicles (campervan, Porsche, jeep). She has a sweet, companionable relationship with Ken and, in my house at least, the closest she came to sexual activity was the one date she went on with my brother’s Action Man doll. Nothing happened between them, and Barbie went home early. She wasn’t that into him.