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Getting Barbie Some New Makeup:Mattel should redress pop culture icon to reflect diversity

Elaine Y. Wan

Is your dream guy tall with short blonde hair, blue eyes, a muscular build, and a golden tan? Does your dream girl have long blonde hair, blue eyes, cherry lips, and an hourglass figure? If you answered yes to the first question, allow me to introduce you to Ken. If you answered yes to the second question, let me introduce you to Barbie. That is, Mattel's Barbie doll.

I got my first Barbie doll when I was ten. I forgot her name, but she had silky long blond hair, a perfect figure, sparkling eyes, slender arms, and her own dress and pink brush. I believe she came with a cassette tape, too. If you didn't have a Barbie doll when you were a child because "boys don't play with Barbie" (which is not true), you probably had a G.I. Joe action figure with huge pectoral muscles. My Barbie doll is probably buried in some landfill right now.

Why do toy companies make their dolls so thin or so muscular? Are dolls truly a reflection of what we consider an ideal image? If so, why is our society today so preoccupied with thinness? How can one make an effort to improve his physical features if he is made to feel that his image is socially unacceptable?

As one of the world's best-selling toys, Barbie is marketed in over 130 countries. By the end of this year, Barbie will be forty years old. Cornelia Otnes, a professor who studies the marketing of Barbie dolls in the Department of Advertising at the University of Illinois, said on University Wire, "Barbie is a worldwide phenomenon. Barbie was, is and always will be a material girl. She is an upper-class female who doesn't have much to do but shop, swim, and date. Recently, Barbie dolls perform more real and upbeat activities with less emphasis on shopping and dating and more emphasis on sports."

Many girls today play with Barbie dolls, and these dolls can have a significant impact on what these girls think of themselves and their future. If toys are reflections of what society considers as ideal, then youths who do not look like Barbie or Ken may feel that they fail to meet expectations and are undervalued.

Fortunately, Barbie dolls have become more diverse in their appearance, although consumers are still predominantly white. New additions to the Barbie family include Blead Blast Christie, African-American Barbie, Twirlin' Makeup Teresa, Hispanic Barbie, and Native American Barbie. Mattel considered making a Wheelchair Barbie but decided against it because Barbie wouldn't be able to get in the "Barbie Dream House."

Out of forty commercials from the past four decades, Otnes noticed that only two had Barbie working. Although the feminist movement has made great headway these past four decades, little of that progress is reflected in what the toy industry produces. Will it be a surprise if most girls think that when they grow up, all they need to do is shop, swim, and date?

Eating disorders are a problem among young people today. Staying trim is healthy but becoming too thin is an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa. With role models like Barbie, supermodels, and lanky Hollywood stars, it is no wonder that everyone today is striving for a trimmer body. I'm not saying that being trim is bad: Studies have shown that slender people live longer than those who are obese. Health problems like diabetes, hypertension, elevated blood cholesterol levels, heart trouble and infertility are more common in heavy people.

In the 1800s, females with full, and wider figures were considered ideal and beautiful. Conceptions of beauty from different ages can be compared in the female form in a Reuben's painting and the cover of Glamour Magazine or by contrasting the mens' physique appearing in Body Builder's Magazine with that in Gentleman's Quarterly. Today, people with wider figures are not accepted as well in society as those with trimmer body figures.

None of us wants to be heavy, but obesity is often due to environmental and hereditary factors. There are many factors that regulate and control body weight. Overweight parents tend to have overweight children. The amount of food consumed depends upon economic status, psycho-social behavior, pleasure, anxiety and stress. Weight loss can be induced by diets, increasing physical activity or the use of pharmaceutical aids. However, modification of behavioral patterns are highly dependent upon stress, peer and parental pressure, and self image. How can one have the will power to improve one's self-image if he has no self-respect or self-worth? This is why it is important for people who are overweight to realize that they are respected in society. But they should also be encouraged to reduce their weight so they will have less health problems in the future.

Barbie dolls can have great impact on a developing child's self-conception. Mattel plans to widen Barbie's body size next year to show that not everybody is thin. The doll would have a more beneficial effect on youths if she encouraged children to be physically, socially and intellectually active. The new line of dolls for the 21st century will hopefully reflect the cultural, physical and intellectual diversity in our community today.