Is BARBIE unapologetically herself?

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A Barbie dream house for the child of a wanna-be bodybuilder.

First, if you’ve been living not reading the news (go you!), allow me to catch you up:

Barbie, ever controversial lady, has launched a new advertising campaign.

The campaign focuses on Barbie being #unapologetic about who she is, how she looks and the kerfuffle she’s consistently created.

(It partners with Sports Illustrated yet for me that’s less interesting than the word unapologetic.  I do NOT want to address the concept of a children’s doll featured as sexy in a magazine geared toward men. Creepy.).

UNAPOLOGETIC.

You know the campaign caught my eye and I was swamped with emails asking what I thought and bashing the concept immediately began jotting my musings on paper.

UNAPOLOGETIC.

You know the campaign immediately sparked me to think:

What? The biggest anti-feminist icon EVER is using *MY* WORD? EW. How dare she!!

UNAPOLOGETIC.

You know the campaign forced me to stop (judging), stop (and recall I let the Tornado have Barbies), and STOP (and open my mind).

Why Barbie might just be one of us and Unapologetically Herself.

  • Barbie is a career-trailblazer.  We roll our eyes at her, but Barbie started out modeling, snagged a PhD in astrophysics, turned physician in 70’s and Olympic athlete in 1975.  Barbie ran for president. Barbie played in the WNBA.  We have *so* focused on her plastic exterior we’ve forgotten she might deserve applause for breaking glass ceilings before many of us felt empowered enough to smash.
  • Barbie unapologetically reminds me feminism = choice.  As a budding, young feminist I struggled with being judgmental.  I didn’t understand why my feminist choices might not be yours.  I didn’t understand women supporting women means we have the CHOICE to work outside the home…or not! Barbie unapologetically made myriad choices and, through that lens, serves as feminist roll model.

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Unapologetic about being a lifeguard with a PhD

  • Barbie hasn’t demonstrated dangerous behaviors.  When I spied the uproar I thought of several genetically blessed athlete-bloggers.  These women are often “criticized” about physiques sending “wrong” messages and yet are uber-healthy. We don’t know what Barbie eats.  Barbie could she be a natural ectomorph! I’m being facetious, but studies still show girls’ body image is most influenced by mother’s attitudes. I don’t blame pop culture, I discuss pop culture with my daughter, and practice what I long to preach.
  • Barbie is over and she knows it.  Who among us hasn’t wondered: Am I still relevant? Am I still needed? Does my voice add to the silence?  Barbie has been eclipsed by worse other dolls (Bratz to Monster High) and is unapologetic about it.  Entirely.

I find the whole campaign less offensive and  more idiotic.

I don’t worry my daughter will see Barbie in Sports Illustrated and think herself inferior or not enough.

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My child is fully aware Barbie is a plastic doll and reflects not on whether Barbie has the perfect bod or aged “too well” over the past 50+ years.

Would I prefer a real, live, flawed woman featured in an #unapologetic campaign? Hell yes.

Ive lived long enough and experienced enough and have stories enough Im sadly not at liberty to share to realize that will be a long time coming.

For now it’s enough for me to watch my child sound out the word UNAPOLOGETIC and shout:

Hey that’s like me. Unpologetically myself!

I say we brazenly embrace who we are, what we look like, who we *choose* to become and support each other along the way.

Unapologetically.

  • Are you offended by the Barbie #unapologetic campaign? 

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Comments

  1. says

    I must laugh at all the bashing Barbie gets. Sure she has measurements that no real woman would ever have but she does put herself out there and try new stuff. I had Barbies growing up and I don’t think I ever envisioned “being” her in any shape or form. She was a doll, I brushed her hair and she played alongside my brothers GI Joe dolls. My daughter has not shown any interest in Barbies (yet) but if she does, I’ll let her have one. I’ll also continue to show her what real life women are all about. Because that is where the real learning is!

  2. says

    I’m not offended. People make too big a deal over stuff and this is no exception. Barbie has been around for a very long time and I highly doubt that young girls look at her and say ‘I want to look like that’. I never thought that way and I was not a thin child by any stretch of the imagination.

  3. says

    I guess I am not looking at the right media to have even seen this! I grew up playing with Barbies and so did my daughter. Although I was a bit upset when she wanted Bay Watch Barbie (at the time, that seemed to be the “worst” one) we both managed to grow up to be strong, independent women — I could say “despite playing with Barbies,” but maybe it was because of it! ;-)

  4. says

    i agree, i just think it’s idiotic. Not sure who or what they are targeting, but they send the wrong picture.
    Unapologetically is a word to be used… SIGNIFICANTLY

  5. Runner Girl says

    I wonder if I will let my daughter play with Barbies when I have kids.
    I’d thought NEVER!!! because she’s too unattainable, but hadn’t though about the power I’d have as a mother to influence, too.

    • Yoli says

      I may have agreed with you back in the 70’s but now there are far worse living influences I don’t have the bandwidth to worry about plastic.

  6. says

    Carla! I seem to have rediscovered you today when I saw you comment on something on Twitter. Since I last read your (old) blog, you seem to have moved from Texas to Oakland and started a NEW blog!

    I’ve had similar changes. I moved from Washington, DC to Buffalo, NY last year, I got married, and now I have a blog about living in Buffalo. :)

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I checked in! I’m resubscribing to your blog and Twitter feed, so I’ll be more caught up in the future.

  7. Natalie says

    OMG how funny is your Met RX Barbie house!!!!!!
    Anyway, I agree.
    Barbie can be very dangerous if we as women also emulate her.
    Striving for skinny etc.
    Alone? She’s just plastic.

  8. Joce says

    I agree with you on the frightening fact Barbie has been eclipsed by worse things.
    I hate those Bratz dolls.

  9. says

    Can’t say I’ve ever had a Barbie doll, lol!

    I tend to feel that girls can distinguish between a doll and reality. I know that kids generally feel that Bart Simpson, for example, was a cartoon character and not a role model.

    I have found it interesting that many girls torture their Barbies…

  10. says

    I definitely think the whole thing is stupid & crazy & idiotic for sure. I always appreciate your take on this.. yes, I still find it a bad move.. as much as you made all your points, the look of Barbie which is what kids see vs. the understanding behind it of which you wrote if what n=bothers me… Unless a child as a mom that explains that the body image of Barbie is not realistic & teaches a child to love themselves beyond that, I think all kids see is a body image… Tornado is a lucky kid!

  11. says

    My child never played with Barbies. She played with Bratz dolls occasionally and American Girl dolls. And she already has had plenty of exposure to negative body image issues as well as her own self conscious body issues, so I can’t blame Barbie at all. I agree that the campaign is a bit absurd, but it’s marketing and we’re all talking about it, so it must be working ;-)

  12. says

    I missed the new Barbie campaign completely. Geez it’s a doll. I had them. My kids have them. I never thought to compare Barbie to me. I suspect there’s a whole lotta over-thinking going on.

  13. says

    I love this. I love how you can take an issue and really attempt to look at it from all sides.

    Do I think Barbie promotes a healthy image for girls? Not really. But I think that life is filled with inconsistencies and difficulties and we find our way. Also, kids can just be kids. They can play with dolls and pretend and dress them up. It doesn’t have to always be about the ‘lesson’..sometimes, it’s just playing.

  14. says

    I must be under a rock because my husband mentioned to me this weekend that Barbie was on the cover of SI and I had no idea. My initial reaction was outrage, that it was ridiculous and silly so I appreciate your take on this (and humor). Bottom line is that I absolutely agree that we as women need to do more supporting and lifting each other up.

  15. says

    Apparently I live under a rock as this is the first if heard of the Barbie/Sports Illustrated partnership.

    As far as Barbie goes, I’ve almost always been Switzerland. Sure I played with her as a kid ( and did her hair, pierced her ears and gave her a tatoo), never once paying attention to her measurements.

    The only time I was offended by the Barbie franchise was back in the early 90’s when ‘talking’ Barbie said ‘math is hard’. Way more damaging to young girls IMHO than the impossible physique!

  16. cherylann says

    Blissfully ignorant until now. I chose to not play with Barbie in the 50s as I thought she WAS creepy looking. I had a Tammy doll. She was flat chested (like me). Daughter played with Barbies, had the pink jeep, the motor home and the whole nine yards. She at 27 is much more comfortable in her skin that I was at her age. Correlation then between playing with Barbies and accepting you you are? = a big fat zero.

  17. says

    I haven’t been exposed to the campaign but conceptually I’m all for it. Save for child molesters and rapists I can’t think of who I wouldn’t want to be “unapologetically” him or herself. It’s what I’ve been striving to be (actively) for 6 years (still not quite there.) Barbie is unapologetically pretty and plastic and boobalicious. Go her!

  18. says

    The funny thing about this Barbie campaign {and those in the past} is that it never upsets kids because I doubt they are really paying attention. I had Barbie growing up and all I remember is brushing her hair and changing her wardrobe so she would wear a light coat while cruising her pink car down my sidewalk.

  19. Kris says

    I loved playing Barbies and don’t remember ever wanting to look like her. I just simply liked playing with them and the house and rv and all the accessories. My daughter has a boatload of Barbies and at almost 12 still likes playing with them.

  20. says

    I have to be honest- I have never been bothered by Barbie. Maybe it is because honestly, there are too many other things in the world that concern me- that I just do not believe that Barbie is going to cause undo influence on my daughter. As insecure as I might be about my weight or looks, it has nothing to do with the fact that I played with Barbies when I was younger…I don’t know- maybe I am getting old and cranky, but I feel like with anything- it is the foundation of ideas that helps our kids grow and learn.

  21. Priscilla says

    Missed the controversy. M doesn’t play with dolls so Barbie is a non-issue around here. Other than a former babysitter gave her a Barbie movie that was so vapid I threw it away.

    Like other commenters above, I had Barbies growing up. Twenty three, in fact, counting those of my sister. And I never felt like that’s how I was supposed to look or be, etc etc. She was just a doll to me? Kind of like baby dolls didn’t really look like actual babies?

    Barbie just isn’t a hot button issue for me. The NON-self rescuing princesses bother me far more. :)

  22. says

    Oh…so much to say….but I feel Barbie is the essence of unapologetically herself… It’s about not “fitting in” and being anything you want to be………the intention in the creation of Barbie was pure……the inspiration came from Handler’s own daughter, as she watched her play with friends. Handler sensed that it was just as important for girls to imagine what they themselves might grow up to become as it was for them to focus on what caring for children might be like.
    Barbie changes with the times and society (just as each and every woman does) and even more ironic is that when Handler took the idea to the advertiser for the company (all men) they said no. Barbie started as a teen fashion model and grew into showing girls that they could be anything that their imagination dreamed of. But back to the intent, it was about family, friends and life. Even Ken was named after Handler’s son.
    Little girls don’t think about the “body” shape when they play with Barbie, its we as adults that give them that.

    • Carla says

      AMEN. it is SO we big people types viewing her through our eyes/life experiences. I had a convo this morning (yay no school day!) with the child trying to probe and see if she wished Barbie came in more non-blonde to match HER.
      She seemed not to care—but I do think that’s probably because she has a number of non-blondes here already? :-)

  23. says

    I’m one of those people who must live with my head in the sand – I hadn’t heard about his before now.
    I don’t think the campaign bothers me either way – I’ve never seen Barbie as a role model for any girls. There are so many real life role models out there that I don’t think Barbie really makes much difference.

  24. says

    I don’t remember thinking about looking like Barbie when I was a kid. What I wanted was a car, a beach house, and an extensive wardrobe. :) I still want those.

    Adult Cammy does tend to project her own experiences onto poor plastic Barbie, though. I have to remind myself that my lens is (usually) different from that of the average 7-year old girl.

  25. says

    I hadn’t heard about this, but my first thought was “Who is in an uproar about Barbie now?”

    Barbie will never satisfy everyone. What I find interesting is that no matter what Barbie *does*, we always fixate on her looks and how that reflects on what she does. She cannot escape that – or we won’t let her.

  26. says

    Count me among those living under a rock b/c I hadn’t heard this. But I was under my warm La Jolla rock, so it’s all good.

    My favorite point you made here is that feminism is exactly what gives us the choices to be who we want. I wish more people would appreciate that fact and be thankful for where we are today–let’s focus on those freedoms and not on the choices we all make!

  27. says

    She’s always just been herself, a piece of plastic. How she is seen is in the viewer, not inherent in the doll.

    Everyone’s choices, unless your choices are to commit crimes, should be supported, that’s how you get to be yourself.

  28. cherylann says

    True feminism also includes being able to support oneself financially and not having to rely on anyone else. And I guess Barbie has it pretty much together there with making millions throughout her lifetime.

  29. says

    I think it’s a said ploy for attention. Barbie is so over–the company needs to focus on how to attract empowered young girls who are no plastic dolls.
    Estelle

  30. says

    This made me laugh: “Unapologetic about being a lifeguard with a PhD”. As someone with a master’s degree, a business, and a lifeguard certification (maintained for 16 years!), and who is entirely unapologetic about it, I appreciate Barbi’s well-rounded approach to career.

  31. Jessica @EatSleepBe says

    Frankly I’m torn. I think the bashing is a little silly but the feminist in me sort of wants to blurt out a bash or two. I think if we teach all children to be unapologetically themselves and for adults to live in a way which models that behavior, that is what really matters.

  32. says

    I don’t think there’s much point in bashing Barbie. The “boy” toys are not very realistic, either. Are our sons aspiring to the GI Joe six pack? Wide shoulders and slim hips? Chiseled jaw? No one complains about the oh-so-unrealistic models in Abercrombie, etc. Doesn’t every society admire the “ideal” form? Michaelangelo’s David doesn’t have love handles and a paunch…None of us should criticize anyone else’s appearance. We shouldn’t tell a skinny girl to “eat a sandwich,” just as we shouldn’t tell an overweight person on a bicycle to “pedal faster.” We should only criticize other people’s appearance when we are making snarky comments to our best friend :)

  33. says

    I was a giant tomboy and still had a Barbie, Ken…and a horse…and GI Joe and transformers. Barbie was a toy to me…I never saw her as a goal or perfect body to aspire to. She was a ninja catburgler half the time in my house :)
    I think this campaign is more to win moms over…

  34. says

    Haha, your list of Barbie’s accomplishments made me giggle a little. I forgot that some of the Barbie toys actually had some pretty cool themes. Interesting ideas here.

  35. says

    I’ve never really understood why women …feminist women, mostly…seemed to get so in an uproar over Barbie. I’ve yet to come across someone who experienced, first-hand, anything negative from playing with Barbies. Maybe they’re just jealous of all her cool stuff?

    I absolutely agree that women supporting women in WHATEVER choice they make is important….says the advanced degreed housewife :)

  36. Mike says

    Barbie has become brand name of doll. People forget what doll is; they just know what is barbie and love to buy it for their kids. but a barbie should be preferably made of safe plastic material.

  37. says

    I am not offended by the campaign and I think we read far too way into these things. I loved playing with Barbie’s as a kid. She is a doll and that is all. I want the Tornado’s t-shirt! XO

  38. says

    You’ve made a great point, I also don’t find this offensive at all, but a girls’ toy in a men’s magazine is just… downright stupid and yes, kinda creepy. I’ve been reading your blog for a while and I think you’re doing a great job raising your daughter and talking to her about things that many parent seem to overlook or just think of as unimportant.
    I really liked the Brazen blog post, too. I love your writing, keep doing what you’re doing!

  39. says

    Poor Barbie! Always in the centre of some controversy. What? Barbie isn’t REAL????
    Joking aside….sometimes I think people get lathered up about nothing. Barbie is a doll, and most girls seem to see her as that, not a “role model”. I wonder why the same thoughts don’t turn to “Chatty Cathy” or “Skipper” or any other dolls. Or why we don’t think Elmo will make kids want to be red and furry? I dunno…

  40. says

    …and open my mind.

    that was perhaps the most powerful thing you wrote.

    Let’s keep in mind that it’s a doll :) Yes yes, I know the company is putting forward a persona that people who buy the doll are subscribing to, or perpetuating. But, in the end, your kids, our kids, are what we help them become to be. They don’t learn their life lessons from playing with a doll. It’s a blip in time in their entire life. It helps foster their imagination. It’s .. a toy!

    And let’s not forget we would be more than supportive if a little boy wanted to play with Barbie! Because after all, playing with dolls doesn’t mean anything, does it?

    Cheers
    Matt
    http://agoodtimewithwine.com

  41. says

    Add me to the living under a rock clan, this was the first I’d heard of it. Echoing the sentiments of others – absurd/creepy & she was never more than a doll when I was growing up. At least she has more coverage with her suit than some of the other models that have graced the SI cover over the years ;)

  42. says

    I’m not too offended by the campaign. Yes it’s creepy that it’s in SI! But in general Barbie has always been doing whatever the heck she wants and taking on careers of all kinds. So I’m fine with it. I just do agree with you that I’d prefer to see someone else more “realistic” in that kind of campaign.

  43. says

    Barbie dolls have become a household thing for children these days. They just want a doll as badly as they want a burger to eat. The dolls are very stylish these days and have a great influence on the upbringing of the children. Some have negative but most of them have a positive one.

  44. says

    I love trying something new and after hard work and practise been.able to do it.
    There is no comfort then that, and familiarity with the same thing…but when I try something new and soon accomplish it I feel so very proud,…