As though classic Barbie were a regular Amelia Earhart.
When I was about seven, my mom gave me her collection of 1960s Barbies along with a huge variety of mod-style wardrobe, most of which was in excellent, possibly mint condition. Naturally, within weeks several were dismembered, and most had haircuts and red nail polish on their faces, which I thought would make pretty lip-stick and blush.
While it always bugged me that Barbie had fucked-up feet, in general she was a great playmate—pliable and cooperative, pretty and always up for changing her outfit, doing the splits or having fake sex with my one Ken doll. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered that these qualities—along with Barbie’s looks and shopping problem—made her a bad influence on my 7 year-old brain.
Since my mom’s Barbies were created some time in the 60s the pretty, blond doll has done a lot to offend women. Someone did the math and discovered that if Barbie were a real person she would be 6′ 0″ tall, weigh 100 lbs., and have measurements of 39″/19″/33″. At some point, someone coined the term “Barbie Syndrome” to “describe the desire to have a physical appearance and lifestyle representative of the Barbie doll,” often associated with pre-teen girls. And in 1992 Mattel released a talking Barbie which said among other things, “Math is tough,” and “Will we ever have enough clothes?” causing feminists and rational women everywhere to look for alternate playthings for their daughters.
But despite all the controversy Barbie has drawn, the doll still winds up in little girls’ hands every Christmas. Each year, Mattel comes out with new editions, both geared towards kids and adult collectors, and each year, Barbie continues to inspire rage from her haters.
The latest controversy: Tokidoki or “Tattoo Barbie,” a collectors’ doll created by Italian designer Simone Legno, which goes for around $50 and has light pink hair, carries a small dog named Bastardino and is covered with permanent tattoos.
Predictably, parents are not pleased. As Telegraph pointd out, Holly Lebowitz Rossi, a writer for parents.com, commented, “For those who look to Barbie as a role model for strong, empowered girls, the Tokidoki doll is overly-sexualised and inappropriate.”
One could easily argue the opposite. The classic Barbie—who is no less sexualized than the Tokidoki doll—hasn’t been thought of as a positive role model by many women for decades now, and during the same period tattoos, piercings and dyed hair have become far less associated with “inappropriateness” and more associated with individuality and style.
As Christian Science Monitor pointed out, “A 2006 Pew Research survey found that 36 percent of adults age 18 to 25 have at least one tattoo, as do 40 percent of those age 26-40. Additionally, 54 percent, or over half of respondents in those age groups, had done at least one of the following: gotten a tattoo, had a body piercing in a place other than their ear lobe, or dyed their hair an untraditional color (Tokidoki doll pink, for example).”
The Tokidoki doll, which clearly has an artsy side and a sense of humor when it comes to dog-naming, may actually be a better role model for strong, empowered girls than the classic blond, tattoo-less Barbie.
That said, though I don’t have kids, I think relying on an inanimate object to be a role model might lead to trouble, even if the object doesn’t have an unattainably hot body and luxurious yellow hair. Barbie has undoubtably had an influence on young girls, but the term “role model” works best when applied to flesh and blood people instead of barbies, whether or not they have tats.