Life in Plastic
Barbie has been in the press recently for producing a new line of dolls that are meant to challenge its industry’s perpetuation of an unrealistic normalcy. For years, Barbie has been under fire from critics for producing a symbol that encourages little girls to idolize and replicate an image that for a large group of consumers isn’t physically possible. The ideation of pale skin, slim waist, light eyes, and straight, blonde hair as ’normal’ has resulted in the increase of psychological issues in young women. From her conception, Barbie has been a hyper-sexualized symbol existing only in a superficial realm and acknowledged only for her physical attributes.
Understanding the detriment its brand has attributed to the status of women, Barbie has released a line of dolls in varying body sizes and skin tones. While Barbie has taken a step in the right direction with this new line of fashionistas it has failed to deliver a context in which these dolls can break from their historical meaning, which is to say that their value is still inextricably tied to their physical appearance. Barbie has given interest-centric titles to some of its products, such as Game Developer and President/Vice President, but they are still grouped by body type: curvy, tall, petite, and original. Even still, those grouped by interest are overwhelmingly pale-skinned, tall, and thin.
When Lottie Doll entered the scene in 2012, it presented consumers with a healthy alternative to the current offerings in the fashion doll market. With a physical appearance closer to a nine-year-old girl than a German call girl (from which Barbie gets her buxom chest and ridiculous legs), the Lottie Doll removes the emphasis on physicality by using interest-centric language to identify her. Unlike Barbie, Lottie has the benefit of being able to create a world in which Lottie already has the actionable capital to pursue hobbies at her own will. This allowed the marketing communications for Lottie to emphasize activity and allow her skin color and body type to be purely incidental making her a truly idyllic, healthy cultural figure.
Despite the saturation of physical and ideological ideals Barbie has instilled in consumers, the Lottie doll has proved itself to be a worthy competitor gaining critical acclaim from the public. As a global brand with a long history, Barbie’s effort to extract itself from a tradition whose essential values have expired (e.g. the American atomic family and the necessity for a homebound matriarch) is long overdue. Culture no longer needs symbols that traffic within the existing language of patriarchal tradition, it needs symbols that embody a new language of tradition, one that inherits equality and supersedes gendered action. Hopeful as I am for big brands to take a good look inwards and update what is sometimes grossly outdated brand values, it’s disappointing to see that the manifestations of such soul searching renders racial, gender, and socio-economic equality as tick-marks in a target audience.
Image credits: barbie.com; geekologie.com