Sunday, November 6, 2011

Barbie Goes Punk

Barbie has been a lot of things in the past 50 years. She’s been a vet, an astronaut, a race car driver, a surgeon and served in all four American military forces. More recently she’s been Catwoman, Grace Kelly, Beyoncé, and now – Punk.

This new Barbie is very much a rich-trashy kind of gal. From her designer sunnies to her sparkling silver stilettos, leopard print tights, pink mini skirt, bangles, belt and bag - this Barbie is all about stuff. Even her dog, Bastardino, is dressed in a cactus costume with a diamond-studded collar.

The neck and back tattoos she sports are hardly a shock amidst the rest of her outfit, which screams “KARDASHIAN”. But it’s the tattoos that have everybody talking.

The response from media and online forum debate has been mixed and heated. A common theme from online opinion is that of relief. Mothers relieved that this “realistic” doll will help their children not to be judgmental of people with tattoos.

(Hate to break it to you “Anonymous Mum”, but it’s actually your job to raise your child to be non-judgmental. It’s unlikely Barbie will achieve this for you. At least not until they make an obese Barbie.)

Other parents find her tattoos repulsive and unnecessary, demeaning and objectifying. But Barbie has always been the model of female objectification - over-sized breasts, non-existent hips, long (usually blonde) hair, flawless skin and the perfect toosh. Nothing about Barbie has ever been real.

At any rate though, the tattoo having an impact on impressionable little girls is kind of beside the point. Mattel’s Barbie Collector website mentions that this new punk Barbie is for the adult collector. (Yes. Adults collect Barbie dolls.) And at $50 USD she isn't priced for the kiddie market.

Toy manufacturers outdo each other in making baby dolls look more like real babies – crying noises, newborn wrinkles, umbilical stubs. But Barbie is in a class of her own. Mattel has never tried to make her more realistic. She’s never been anything but anorexic. And she’s never had a breast reduction to make her anatomically correct. She's never had hips. Opinion columnists coming out of the woodwork to slam Barbie's relatively innocuous tattoos are trying to catch a boat that left 50 years ago.

But during an economic downturn, any publicity is good publicity and, tattoos and all, Mattel is lapping it up.

© Eva Whiteley 2011

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