Monday, May 31st, 2010
Some parents are in a twist because Mattel’s new “Back to Basics” Barbie collection — featuring a line of dolls in modern cocktail attire — has a doll sporting a knee-length black dress with a plunging neckline and “bowling-ball cleavage”.
Let’s consider for a moment that all these Barbies, as a set, are themed around cocktail and evening wear. None of the dresses on any of the Barbies in this set strike me as particularly over-sexed: most of them are pretty standard fair, black dresses based on current trends or classic styles. There are only two showing off any extreme amount of cleavage, including the one in question and — arguably, depending on your perception — number 11 with the halter dress..
A concerned Minnesota mother says:
“I don’t want [my daughter] to think she has to be this, you know, busty Barbie who’s constantly wearing heels and these low-cut shirts. And that’s really the image I think a doll that you’re going to buy for a child is portraying.”
Not for nothing, but some of us HAVE naturally large breasts and for me the problem at the core here is a culture and society that over-sexualizes large breasts and judges them as automatically inappropriate. I have large breasts and I’m sick of being policed for them, especially by other women: they’re no more or less appropriate than small ones.
What if the daughter of this woman grows up to have naturally larger breasts? What kind of messages are we sending to her then, that her large breasts are abnormal and ‘slutty’ just by virtue of their size? That she’s forever doomed to the “fake-breasted stripper look” if she wears a top that so much hints at cleavage? How is that any better than telling small- or average-breasted teens they need large breasts to be sexy?
Also — and I know I’ve said this before but I’m gonna say it again — slut shaming and madonna/virgin worship are two different sides of the same coin: women are either pure, modest and sexually restrained or slutty, sex-crazed whores. The clothing choices on this set of Barbies seems very measured to me given the theme: the hemlines mix from long to short, the tops range from turtleneck to plunge, and the sleeves range from full to strapless. As a representation of basic cocktail dresses women in the current day and age wear, I think Mattel did pretty well representing a broad set of styles and degrees of sexual expression.
Of course, they’re all identical body-types — skinny, hourglass-shaped and tall. That’s the bigger issue to me than what they’re wearing. Wouldn’t it be great if we could see a range of body-type as broad as the range of fashion? Short, stout girls, pear-shaped girls, flat-chested girls, tall and lanky girls, etc. Mattel is starting to think a little more carefully about race when they’re building these dolls (though still not enough: hair and face shapes still tend toward a largely caucasian standard even when the skin tone is modified), so why not represent a broader range of body sizes and shapes as well?
Sure it would cost more to manufacture, but also think of the sales potential! With a variety of body types comes the need for consumers to buy a broader variety of clothing and accessories, especially for girls with multiple dolls that wouldn’t always be able to draw from the same wardrobe. If I was Mattel’s CEO that’s where I’d steer the ship: good publicity and a whole host of new products to sell.