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Iím a Barbie Girl

Ruth Handler died without the pomp and ceremony of the Queen Mum, even though her regal offspring has probably garnered more wages than Great Britainís GNP many times over.

Ruth Handlerís achievement in begetting the Barbie doll could never hold a candle to Barbieís own career trajectory. For example, her obituary identified her as the creator of the Barbie doll. But the picture that accompanied it was of Barbie, not Ruth.

Ruth may be a mere mortal, but rest assured, Barbie is not.

And like anyone larger than life (no matter how small), Barbie was a lightning rod for feminist invective.

You see, Iíve got a different spin on all that.

The problem is not that Barbieís a bad role model for girls. Barbie sure can teach a girl a lot. And Iíll get to all that in a minute.

But I think we ought to begin by setting the record straight. If you ask me, the problem, in terms of role models, actually lay with Ken.

Parents, would you really want your daughters to date a man as testosterone-challenged as Ken? I think not.

Check out his hair. It is painted on his head. What does this tell you about his authenticity as a man?

Look at the outfits he wears! Heíd be right at home in a Richard Simmons workout video. But Iím guessing an avatar of Richard Simmons is not the kind of guy youíd want her to bring home to meet the folks.

And donít even get me started on Ken, au naturel. My youngest daughter assured me heís improved with age because now Mattel has added a pair of painted-on briefs. Thatís a compliment only an 11-year-old could make. And I suspect these semi-gloss briefs only draw attention to what Ken has been lacking all along.

So I say, level the charges at Ken. Heís the one likely to lead our daughters to develop false ideas about masculinity. (Iíve never known a man with painted-on hair. Or briefs, for that matter.)

Barbie, on the other hand, has been sorely misused by social critics who raise a hue and cry over her disproportionate figure. They bemoan the effects such a standard of beauty (a term I think it is safe to say is used loosely when applied to Barbie dolls) has on young girls.

They talk about Barbie signifying the objectification of the female form. They say that this 11-inch plastic icon is not an accurate representation of a real woman.

Well, my older daughter, Madeleine, and I have given this some serious attention.

First of all, we figure that Barbieís critics may have a philosophical problem with the fact that Barbie has a head that pops off and on to allow her to slip more efficiently into her sexy and stylish wardrobe.

Itís true indeed that real women keep their heads on their shoulders.

But imagine the convenience if they didnít!

When I was a kid, dressing Barbie in her best Carnaby Street garb, it was a snap to simply pop off her head rather than wrestle skin-tight sheaths and body stockings over all those limbs and protuberances. Honestly, Twiggy never had it that good.

Second of all, Madeleine and I freely concede the arguments the social critics offer that, if Barbie were a real human being, she would have serious issues with her hamstrings and Achilles tendons. No doubt so many years of permanent stiletto-heel readiness took their toll. But to badly misquote the French: ďIt is necessary to suffer to be Barbie.Ē And she would die before donning Birkenstocks.

Third, itís also probably true that, if Barbie were a real human woman instead of a byword for consumerism, she would not be able to walk upright. Itís easy to see why: The weight of her pendulous breasts is simply not offset by her waspy waist and junior-high boy hips. Clearly, Barbieís figure was not designed with gothic cathedrals and flying buttresses in mind.

But finally, Madeleine and I answer Barbieís critics like this: So what?

So Barbie wouldnít be able to walk upright. There are worse afflictions. So, as a real woman, Barbieís head would have to stay attached. Hey, thatís life.

Besides, if you are an astronaut and a supermodel and a veterinarian and a chart-topping pop star singer who lives in many different sets of really cool digs and has access to the most startling and varied array of clothes, would you really need to walk upright?

I mean, who cares if you walk upright? Into each life a little rain must fall, as they say. Barbie is just differently abled than most of us. And why should she be excoriated because of that?

Our point is, Barbie has attained astonishing social power. And this is in spite of the disability that gravity would wreak upon her if she were real.

Even Martha Stewart does not have that much clout.

Think about it. Wouldnít you, too, walk around on all fours, wearing Manolo Blahnik heels, if it meant you could be Barbie? All those clothes, all those cars, all those high-paying, power-slugging careers? And Ken isnít the only game in town. I hear G.I. Joe was built to last.

It seems to me that if you want a role model for female empowerment and the redemptive power of consumerism, who also doubles as a poster child for the physically challenged, then just step into the World of Barbie, whose limits are, as yet, undiscovered.

óJo Page

You can contact Jo Page at jopage@graceniska.org.


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