So, Barbie just appeared on the cover of the Sports Illustrated 50th anniversary annual swimsuit issue (wearing the swimsuit she wore when she first appeared in shops in 55 years ago). And this cover caused a huge stir. Apparently it’s giving girls a wrong body image. This might be right but I don’t understand why a picture of a doll is worse than a picture of what is supposed to be a live, breathing woman but is so photo-shopped that no live breathing woman, even the one who posed for the picture, could ever look like that. Because her name adorned the title of my first book and because I (believe it or not) used to be nicknamed Barbie, she was always present in my work. This is why in my last interview for Croatian Cosmopolitan, I was asked a very interesting (and tricky) question: What have I learned from Barbie? I was always very quick to criticize Barbie (for her unnatural body image and dumb activities) but never spent one thought wondering if there ever was anything positive to having grown up with Barbie. This really wasn’t an easy question.
And then I remembered a conversation I recently had with a lady who works for Mattel and who told me that Barbie’s sales are dropping and Mattel is trying to figure out a way to save Barbie. It’s a tricky situation because you don’t want (or can’t) change who she is but you have to figure out a way for her to regain her appeal. As much as I have always criticized Barbie, this made me sad. It felt like a part of my childhood was disappearing. I asked which dolls took over in sales and she said “Monster High.” I couldn’t have a reaction to this as I had absolutely no clue who or what Monsters were. So next time I passed by a toy store, I went inside to look at Monsters, secretly hoping that Barbie is leaving for a good reason – that she’s making space for new young, cool, independent, strong dolls.
Ouch! To my disappointment, Monster High turned out to be are bad, very bad, worse than Barbie. For so many various reasons. First, they are skeletons. Literally. Take a model dying from anorexia and stretch her limbs just some more. Yes, that’s the body image. Second, many of them are corpses. Their skin is grey or blue and the whole design has a grave-yard feel to it. Have these girls already died from anorexia? Is this why they’re cool??? Also, in spite of being teenagers, they are very sexualized (most of them are wearing mini skirts and high heels). They are only about fashion and style and dressing up. And last but not least - they are just kids!
So it turns out we were screaming at Barbie and how she’s teaching our girls about dressing up and having a horse and a house and that long legs and tight waist are desirable – just to have our girls play with teenagers who died from an eating disorder but are happy because they get to dress up in mini skirts and high heels someone else (hopefully their parents) bought them? That’s just horrible.
Monsters made me understand what I’ve learned from Barbie – that it is good, fun and desirable to be a grown up. When you grow up, you can have all the dresses and shoes and houses and husbands. And you can have a career! While we were bitching at her, Barbie was an astronaut and a doctor and a computer engineer and even the President of United States (and a paleontologist, and many more!). Barbie took away the fear of growing up. She made adulthood seem cool. Monsters are a dangerous because they symbolize, and celebrate, the growing infantilism of our society. Monsters are making girls aspire to be (hungry and dead) teenagers. With no responsibilities, no duties, no fulfillment – except for dressing up. Why grow up if you can have all the clothes, sex, shoes and fun - with no strings attached?
This is why I (to my own big surprise) applaud to Barbie for her reaction to the outrage about the Sports Illustrated cover. She appeared on billboards saying: #unapologetic.