Finding Old Barbies in the Closet – why it is a mistake to aspire to Superwoman

Three things comprise the inspiration for this post:

  1. Super women– I mean Barbies
  2. Barbie Gets Ordained
  3. An online podcast conversation reference to “Women Who Want To “Have It All”

First Up: What Does Barbie Mean To YOU?

In the first essay, Alicia Cohn asked this question up front:

Why do women want to be represented by a plastic doll?

Since we are covering at least two generations here, I can’t speak for all of them, or for what the entire Barbie phenomenon might represent for our culture… but I can tell you my own story.

Revealing my age… I had one of the first Barbie dolls. When it first came out I wanted it so badly, and I was so happy when I finally got one. She had black hair tied in a sleek ponytail with that froufrou of bangs up front that look not unlike a poodle after a trip to the doggie salon. She had a black and white striped swimsuit covering a maturity evoking shape, with tiny high heels… another reference to the world of grownup women, and demure pearl earring studs. Her eyes were sophisticated almond shapes with catlike eyeliner. She was like your teen idol, your pets, and your future all rolled up into one little package that you could role play if you just had enough money for all the clothes and accessories. I didn’t, but I liked having Barbie around. I liked that she wasn’t at all like me… not remotely like me.

And perhaps that is telling both of me, and my generation. She was the dream girl; and that is where her role making starts. In packaged, plastic wrapped dreams.

Next: What Does Barbie Mean To US, Collectively?

But like all little girls I eventually grew up. and those old Barbies? They were played with, put in the toy box, and then found their way to my mother’s backyard garage sales. In time they became icons of a plastic and disdained world that women of my generation wanted desperately to throw away. We hippie mamas. Or did we?

Turns out that hippie mamas became infused with Yuppie enthusiams. Even the diehard ones… and as Superwomen and Super moms icons, roles, and images were given birth, along with our own kids… Barbie made more transformations than that icon of icons, Madonna. It was a whole new Age of Barbie for our daughters: Career Barbies and Celebrity Barbies. Barbies without Ken, ever younger Barbies, diversity Barbies… Barbie for the masses.

But still Barbie, and still plastic. Secretly, sometimes ashamedly, sometimes boldly, collected and displayed with renewed adulation.

Barbie and the Big Lie?

When doing some reflecting back in my thirties (I am fifty-something now), I drew a conclusion that each generation of women is given a form of “the Lie”. We see the past generations lie in a vague sort of way, and rebel against it. But that doesn’t inoculate us from our own generation’s “Lie”, and whenever we are given something of a mock up of the “Ideal Woman” as presented by our culture -and not from a historical view where it can be better considered- we might want to investigate how much of a lie is involved there. Hint… whenever a role model has little to do with ones humanity and lots to do with someone’s manufactured representation… you can bet there is some lying going on.

I liked what Alice Cohn had to say, and I laughed at the pictures of Rev. Barbie- the costume was extremely well done even if the theology is not concordant with mine.

Lies I Was Told

So finally we get to the MAIN POINT

The main point is to address the conversation about the marketing possibilities of gearing web content towards “women who want it all”.

It comes down to what you want to feed people. Real food that makes for healthier human beings? Or sugar laden pap that lards their insides and makes them feel all nice and full and “sugared up” while starving their souls and leaving them as prime candidates for debilitating disease later. Oh yeah, pass that mile high pie… and if you are religious you can just pray away the calories.

Like that will work.

Did women learn nothing during my generation? Probably not, because we are human and it is hard to choose the truth when it isn’t all lathered up with that whip cream topping over the plastic food-stylist presentation which is not real food. Much like Barbie never was, and never meant to be a real woman.

Who started the rumor that she was?

I don’t know, but it might be the sames ones who like the Super Mom-Super Women so well, and are cheerleading her comeback.

I can hear the retorts now… well just because you are a loser with sour grapes attitude doesn’t mean it isn’t possible and laudable to encourage women to be all that they can be.

But you know… I’m not saying women should not be all that they can be. They should aspire to that. In fact I applaud, and cheer, and desire to support, a realistic and healthy vision of what that might be. It is the plastic Barbie version that keeps giving me nightmares at night.

So… the main point of all this might be the last question that Ms. Cohn put forward:

so I wonder: How do intangible qualities such as faithfulness and wisdom connect with girlhood dreams of being a grown-up woman?

3 thoughts on “Finding Old Barbies in the Closet – why it is a mistake to aspire to Superwoman”

  1. Loved this post! You put it far better than most people ever could. What is the appeal of Barbies and Bratz and the like? I have always found this difficult to understand as I was very resistant to my mum and grandparents’ interest in giving me dolls (the toy I remember most fondly from my childhood was a replica Uzi).

    Got points here that made me think. Do men have a SuperMan (not Superman ;)) they aspire to? Why has Barbie got knockers that in real life would make her fall over (if she didn’t have serious back surgery and breast reduction)? What is capitalism’s interest in selling us this model of a woman?

  2. Thanks -glad you liked the message 🙂

    Last point first… well, we know that many women get surgically sized “knockers” that leave them seriously at risk for all sorts of problems (plenty of horror stories -with pictures! there)… I don’t know if it is life follows art or vice versa, but probably just women buying into a very big lie that makes certain business sectors lots of money. (…and if it weren’t money, it would be power, but someone is cashing in on this)

    Men do have superheroes, but as in most cultures it isn’t a single physical image. Here’s a question on this… we know men fuel the Barbie phenomenon in an oblique sort of way, but who fuels the men in their own versions of the lie? We see in women’s mutilation in African culture that it is the women who perpetuate it… Is this the same thing in a different guise? Our own version of female mutilation?

    Who we are is so complicated. Toys are tools for children… their toys are telling us something about what they are thinking and feeling. It is hard for parents to separate their own views of what they want for a child with what the child is telling them about who they are.

    Gender is a powerful force in our lives, but gender is so often layered onto things that aren’t about it at all. A toy might represent more of a character quality like compassion and nurture or need for power and control than about male or female, per se. But we make it about masculinity and femininity… and then try to MOLD kids. I now think we influence, not mold. The parent contributes part of the DNA, they are not the DNA.
    JMO, there.

  3. Hah, yes. My mum was desperate (and still is) for me to be a girly girl, I think. Not happening. Never had the faintest interest in girl toys, wear combat boots and have a buzz cut 😉

    The issue of FGM in African countries, I think, is driven by a similar thing that you discuss in your post. Women are scared that their daughters won’t be marriageable/attractive if they’re not sewed up like good girls should be. Maybe men won’t want them if such is not inflicted, and that would be very bad, in their culture. So women do this, but it’s strange to wonder who started this first. I don’t want to get too, er, technical on a nice Christian blog, but I think we can guess.

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