Barbie and female beauty

As the education reporter for the Post Register, I receive a lot of emails from local schools. I also receive emails from the University of Idaho. Usually these emails are press releases about events going on at the schools or research being done. So imagine my surprise when I received a release about Barbie. I am not even remotely joking. Apparently today is her 50th birthday and she and Ken have been “just friends” since 2004.

Ken and Barbie are no longer a couple.

Sadly, Karbie (or Ben) is no more.

Now I’ve got to admit when I saw “Barbie” as part of the subject line in the email, I didn’t know what to think. I was curious, though. So I read it. Turns out it was all about body image and how we view female beauty in this country.

Some very good points were  made.*

“Growing up feminine in the U.S., one of the predominant themes is that your appearance matters to how we evaluate you,” said Annette Folwell, an associate professor who teaches a gender and communication course at University of Idaho. “Our culture needs to value women for more than their appearance. They need to be valued for their intelligence and what they can be beyond their looks, but there’s no easy fix to the popular mindset.”

“[In the U.S.] we have a long history of heterosexual women being explicitly instructed to ‘play’ dumb in order to boost the ego of potential mates,” said Traci Craig, associate professor in psychology and communication studies at the University of Idaho. “However, in general, even male intelligence is not something valued over brawn. The key distinction about how we value male and female bodies is competence versus aesthetic: a male child can have any body shape at all, but as long as he plays sports well or provides needed physical competencies, he is valued. Female bodies are predominantly valued for their aesthetic appeal.”

*Emphasis added.

Sad but true. The part that pisses me off the most is the “‘play’ dumb” part. I’m proud to say that I can honestly say that I’ve never “played” dumb to boost anybody’s ego,  male or female. I think doing so is dumb and a fast way to lose the respect of that other person as well as your own. People–of either gender–shouldn’t have to be afraid to showcase their intelligence. Personally, I’d rather go for the geek than the jock. In both romantic and platonic relationships, I want somebody I can carry an intelligent conversation with.

The release also compares Barbie with a popular toy for male children: GI Joe.*

More recently, in 2000, filmmaker Jackson Katz documented of the evolution of male dolls, or action figures. He traces a drastic change in the body structure of the dolls over the past 30 years, including ballooning biceps, arms and chest. Today, GI Joe is pretty much Ken on steroids. Notably, steroid use among young men has never been higher.

If the wildly popular dolls are any indication, American’s have now apparently embraced delusional body images of both genders. But GI Joe has a real job, which requires just one, highly respected uniform. Barbie continues to dabble in careers between costume changes.

“The Barbie doll is geared for accessories and clothing, and very few other aspects of women’s lives,” noted Folwell.

*Emphasis added.

Dabblers of any gender annoy the hell out of me. I always want to just shake them and yell, “Make up your mind, damn it!” I was never big on dolls growing up–I was more of Lego fan–but I think Barbie annoyed me even back then (we had a few Barbie dolls but most of them were other kinds).

Just reading all of that is depressing and has given me a lot of time to think about. I’ll post more in the next few days when I have time.


4 comments on “Barbie and female beauty

  1. Ohhhh. I have so much to say on this. I think I may have to blog respond instead of giving you a long comment.
    I repsectfully disagree with some points but I’m definitely NOT promoting people dumbing themselves down for anyone.
    I really liked barbie and ken together though. Maybe they can make it diverse and have her date an Asian guy!

  2. Hmm reading this makes me want to burn a bra or read a lot of books (well I always want to read a lot of books but the point still remains). I was a big fan of Legos when I was a kid too but I also had my fair share of Barbie Dolls (well more like the neighborhood’s fair share), that could explain why I enjoy watching the real life Barbies on The Girls Next Door babble about nothing each week. As for me I don’t want to look like one of those girls or Barbie & I definately strive to be more intelligent than them. When I feel self concious it is, more offten than not, caused by being uninformed & any bad body image is more caused by people & things they say rather than media.

    P.S. I think Barbie should date Bruce Wayne. It makes perfect sense, he has money for her shallowness & she doesn’t have the smarts to notice his sneaking about!

  3. Someone needs to tell Sandy that Bruce Wayne actually belongs to me 😉

    “I enjoy watching the real life Barbies on The Girls Next Door babble about nothing each week.”
    So true. They talk about nothing. ‘Cept maybe clothes… and pink. Lots of pink.

  4. […] Musings and Sports Tags: Body Image, gymnastics, Height-Weight Ratio, Weight loss My last post about Barbie, female beauty and body image got me thinking about how I feel about myself on the […]

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