Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mattel to Make Bald Barbie: Why I'm Not Applauding

By Mimi Hecht 

She may be bald. But she's still Barbie. 

Mattel to Make Bald Barbie: Why I'm Not Applauding

Over the decades since Barbie has made her debut, she has taken on many themes to reflect the diversity of her adoring fans as well as the movement of her time. Working Barbie, black Barbie, tomboy name it. And this week, to add to the growing list of Barbie makeovers, Mattel announced they are producing a bald Barbie for children who have lost their hair because of cancer or other illnesses. 

While this move marks the first time Mattel is actually removing one of Barbie's key features in order to make the doll familiar to a large demographic, I am unmoved by the seemingly noble effort. And the fact that there was a whole Facebook effort by every day moms that helped make this a reality is even more disturbing.

When are we going to stop relying on Barbie to make our girls feel pretty? 

Let's stop deluding ourselves. Barbie is Barbie. She will always have enlarged almond eyes bedazzled by unrealistically long and primped eyelashes. She will always have bright lipstick on her perfectly heart shaped lips. She will always have a over-developed bust and a waist-hip ratio that is unheard of among the human species. You can put a cowboy hat on her, you can even give her acne and eye glasses and call her "Dork Barbie." But she has already defined and defiled what is beautiful for generations of women. And there are no makeovers and "versions" of Barbie that will ever erase her drugged smile and send a positive and realistic message to young girls. Or at least we have yet to see it.

The way we're going with Barbie's many makeovers, there may come a day where a girl will be crushed not to find a Barbie that resembles her exact style, ethnicity and now, medical condition. It seems a girl is only lovable insofar as her reflection is found in Mattel's genius contraption. 

Enough with the attempts to turn Barbie into the mirror for every young girl today. Enough with the protests when we don't see our daughters reflected in the color, attire and hair-style of these svelte and over-developed plastic figures. Though it would be interesting to see, I would not applaud a fat Barbie or a makeup-less Barbie. Barbie by her very nature plays on a detrimental message being sent to our young girls every day—that beauty comes in one form. And the more we have to rely on Barbie to tell us what's beautiful — no matter how sensitive in spirit — the harder it will be to reverse the effects of relying on the media to define beauty for our daughters. 

A young girl suffering from cancer or a disease that causes hair-loss is beautiful because she has a smile and, most importantly, a spirit. Her beauty is in the way she chooses to accent and embellish her hair-loss, in how she chooses to find strength and humor in her situation. And if her "beauty" seems impossible to find, Barbie should be the last place to look for something that is inspiring and eternal. 

And yet, the moms that banded together for this cause were bothered that "Young girls who went through any disease that had hair loss as a symptom didn't have anyone to look up to."

When will we stop looking to superimpose these role models in places that have already ensnared our youth with their negative messages about beauty and worth? When will we actually become these role models? 

I loved playing with Barbies growing up. And when I am blessed with daughters, I doubt I will hands-down banish them from my home. But one things for sure: I will make sure my girls know that Barbie is just Barbie—a whole new and separate species that slightly resembles humans but is in no way a standard in which we seek to find ourselves. 

If a young girl suffering from hair-loss complains to her mother that there is no bald Barbie, her mother's response should not be to then valiantly insist on a bald Barbie. Her mother should be more vigilant in assuring her daughter that we don't look to Barbie to find our beauty. Because every girl is beautiful because of something inherent—something within. Real beauty does not not need to be validated by our culture, especially in the form of a plastic figurine that, mind you, finds its source as a sex object. 

When will our daughters hear this message?

With Passover's steady approach, many of us are thinking about how best to unshackle ourselves from that which mentally and emotionally enslaves us. For women, perhaps freeing ourselves from society's demeaning messages about beauty would be a powerful and healing exodus. 

Mattel claims that three Barbies are sold every second. We have a lot of work to do. 

4 LadyMama voices:

Princess Lea said... [Reply to comment]

I grew up on Barbies, and I loved them. I still have them, down to the last pair of shoes and patio table, packed lovingly away.

When I played with them as a kid I never associated them with expectations or similarities. They were a doll, easy to hold, with a great wardrobe.

I didn't see myself in them, any more than I would see myself in blocks. They were toys.

The problem is today that everyone insists there has to be a mainstreamed representation of themselves available in open market.

As Jews, we understand pretty well that that's not happening, and that it's okay. I didn't expect a "Rosh HaShana" Barbie.

I don't think I am the only one who didn't look to Barbie as a beauty role model.

But for mothers to make a doll into a role model? It's a doll. Find a living person who went through the same disease as a role model. And having the illness, nebach, is more than losing hair.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

You have made some valid points, none of which have not been discussed among us. Little boys have lots of role models who are bald...little girls...???? Is Barbie a role model? No, she is a doll and she is relatable for many children through play. All these fashion dolls have long luxurious hair. This will give many girls a doll to play and interact with who doesn't have hair...just like themselves, or just like their Mommy, or just like their friend from school, or their Aunt, sister, grandmother. Watch your child be teased because she is bald, walk through the mall as a 40 yr old woman who is bald and feel the stares....because it is unusual, different....even scary some will say. But a man, walks down that same mall bald and nobody bats an eye, unless it is because they find him sexy as bald heads on men have become trendy. It is not so for children and women. For a child who is bald to walk down a toy isle and see out of the sea of many fashion dolls with full heads of hair...then they see one who is bald....just like they are....or a child who may tease a girl next year because they are bald, that child sees these bald dolls at the store...maybe that child is given one as a Christmas gift because their parent wants them to learn compassion and that lack of hair does not make the other child scary...Many lesson can be learned. And taught from these dolls. BTW Moxie Girlz and Bratz dolls will be going bald too, sold in ToysRUs starting this June. Respect your opinion and see your concern about relying on a doll for self worth...that is not what this is all about, it is so so so much more that I can not fill in this one long response. Peace to you! ~ Jane Bingham

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I have to say that I do agree with true fact that Barbie should not be made a role model, she is after a plastic doll made of unrealistic proportions and is just something someone created, however the fact of the matter is that she has been around for a long time and in a way has been made a role model for young girls which I don't agree with, but that's the way it is. We have no control over what she was made into over the years. I believe it's more of the simple fact that since so many young girls look at Barbie as a beautiful girl whether her being real or not that it's a good thing that they are making a bald one. Little girls will now have a doll that's like them, bald but still beautiful. Not everyone will agree with that and that's fine, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, whatever it may be. I think tha most people who haven't been in the position that these women who started this petition do not fully understand how much it means to have a doll like this. They're not making money off of it, it's for the children. With all the intolerance in this world that's steadily growing, it's a breath of fresh air to see that there are some people that are trying to change that. If you were bald and sick from chemo and went to pick up your children from school and heard other children picking on your kids because their mom is bald and you saw the pain in your kids eyes you might feel differently. Like I said, everyone has their own opinions and none are right or wrong. Regardless I think it's an amazing thing that these women have done. Thank you. ~ Alyssa

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Thankfully we are all entitled to our own opinions and points of view. The first thing that came to mind as I read your post – might you have a different opinion if you had ever suffered from hair loss? Perhaps you have?......
I've had Alopecia Areata since age 13. It has taken a significant emotional toll on me over the years so much so that I found myself at several points wrestling with the decision to have a child and risk passing on this disease. A disease you cannot control, but instead sometimes feels to be in control of you or at least your emotions and confidence.......
Well, here I am at 38 with my own baby girl. I pray that she does not have those genes that could cause her to lose quarter size, fifty cent piece size, inches wide patches or all of the hair on her head and body. However, she potentially could. To top off that daily fear I have for my daughter – since giving birth I've experienced the worst bout of AA in my life. With more than 1/2 of my hair gone and more falling out every day she sees it. She sees that her mom's hair is different. She sees that I often “hide” under wide headbands and hats. She sees it daily. She doesn't judge me, but then again she is only 10 mos old. Let's get something straight - I'm her role model. Her grandmothers, aunts, cousins, future teachers, etc are her role models.......
As a mother, a mother with hair loss, I am thrilled by the opportunity to give my beautiful daughter dolls both with and without hair. It reinforces what the REAL PEOPLE in her life are teaching her through words and example about beauty, confidence and respect. / Carrie Hart