Tuesday, 16 March 2010
Failing the fat girls, one Barbie at a time
I'm really conflicted by Barbie. You know, the impossibly perfect Aryan goddess who's been the central figure of princess-themed birthday parties and feminist outrage for 50 years and counting? I'm not entirely sure how I feel about her. I had Barbies as a kid — three of them, all hand-me-downs, until I turned one of them into a Misfit, Gem's mortal enemy, and defaced her to the point that no amount of Palmolive dish soap could get the anarchy symbols to wash off her legs. The two that remained acted as showroom models for the elaborate outfits I would fashion out of beige-coloured Kleenex. (Isn't there always a flamboyantly gay contestant on Project Runway who claims his first foray into fashion design was making clothes for his sister's Barbie?) But I wouldn't say Barbie was a big part of my childhood. Not like Strawberry Shortcake or Fashion Plates.
That skinny bitch sure has come a long way since I was dressing her in two-ply shifts, though. She's been outfitted by the world's top couturiers, had several high-profile careers, learned to speak, got her driver's license and owns several pieces of property. In case you didn't know, she turned 50 last year and was feted at New York fashion week (here's a link to a story I wrote about it while I was there covering the shows for ellecanada.com: http://www.ellecanada.com/fashion/fantastic-plastic/a/27574). Now she's taking on TV's best new show. The Barbie Mad Men series sees the blond bimbo and her himbo mini-me'ing four central characters of AMC's Mad Men, the dramatic series set in the 1960s about the ad biz and indiscriminate extramarital sex in pre-clap New York. The dolls look amazing in their period outfits and retro detailing; apparently the faces are actually modeled on Barbie's original '60s era features. They ring in at about $75 each, and will be available for sale in July on http://www.amctv.com/ and http://www.barbiecollector.com/.
The Betty Draper Barbie was kind of a no-brainer, since both the character and the actress personify Barbie's blond-blue-eyed-wasp-waisted hotness. It also made sense to give her a plastic Don doll, because they do make such a handsome couple. Although in both his case and silver fox Roger Sterling's, Mattel's anatomical oversight is terribly egregious considering those guys couldn't keep it in their pants even if it was made of plastic. Might as well give their 13-inch replicas the same chance at carnal happiness, I say. But I know I'm not alone when I express deep disappointment in the Joan Holloway Barbie. For a toy company that's been taking heat for propagating an unhealthy body image in young girls for half a century, they really passed up a golden opportunity to redeem themselves without having to cave in to pressure with a "fat" Barbie. [NOTE: I am in no way suggesting that Christina Hendricks (who plays Joan Holloway) is fat. But her dangerous-curves-ahead body is irrefutably more corpulent than that of cast mate January Jones. Also, we're talking about Barbie here.] They would have looked so classy and savvy if they unveiled a curvaceous, hourglass-y and yes, more realistic doll under the pretense of this project.
If nothing else, it would have saved them from what will inevitably result in Husky Hazel, Barbie's smart, plus-sized friend "Now with a great personality!", which the company will be forced to unveil in a few years' time. She'll drive a charcoal gray sedan with a cardboard tree-shaped air freshener dangling from the rear view mirror and a bumper sticker that reads "Big is Beautiful." At first she'll make a self-deprecating statement that tells girls who buy her, "We're all skinny on the inside!" But she'll eventually fall prey to media pressure and get bad highlights, gel-filled nails and come accessorized with a thigh master and a box of Oreos for emotional eating binges. She'll wear ill-fitting clothes, sensible shoes and work in radio. Eventually, she'll meet a plastic life partner named Gene who will be short, stout and dubiously employed; he'll harbour a secret gambling problem and come with an impressive collection of porn. They'll move into a semi-detached in Flint, Michigan, with Gene's ailing mother and adopt a blind cat from the ASPCA named, rather ironically, Seymour. After a few years, Mattel will slowly faze out Husky Hazel out and bring in Janey Craig, her skinny cousin who will encourage girls to lose 20 pounds for just $20!
It's all so labored and sad. Wouldn't it just be easier for Mattel to give Joan Holloway and her bodacious bod the respect it deserves now? At the very least, I know it would save me the money of buying Janey Craig and turning her into a cracked-out Misfit whore.