Is Barbie doll hypersexualized? It was meant to be



By Prachi Mishra
Parents thank us for the education values in the world of Barbie . . . they could never get their daughters well groomed before—get them out of slacks or blue jeans and into a dress . . . that’s where Barbie comes in. The doll has clean hair and a clean face . . . dresses fashionably, and wears gloves and shoes that match. -Ruth Handler

This statement made by the founder of Barbie is quite correct.  The doll does possess the power to educate. She holds the power to influence greatly the minds of young female consumers. It isn’t unlikely that whenever a young girl would be asked about a toy or a doll to be specific, the image of Barbie would immediately come to her mind.

However, many people have claimed that this role of educating has been recognized and exploited by the makers of the doll. According to them, an unrealistic and “hypersexualized” image of females is portrayed by it.

Barbie was created in the 1950s by the imagination of businesswoman and toymaker Ruth Handler. It was based on a German doll―Lilli Doll, an adult doll, which was not intended for children.

The doll was created having unrealistic and mythical features- curvaceous body, long and thin legs, luxuriously haired- symbolizing the “American girlhood.”

Barbie features in the world of multitude of young females, with her extensive wardrobe. It holds the power to infiltrate the consciousness of children and educate them about how to act, what to wear, what to buy, and more precisely, how to look.

Mattel, the producer of Barbie, claimed that the doll inspired females to take up inspiring careers, through its portrayal with many professions.

However, there is a massive disparity between the myth created by the physical appearance of the doll and the reality of the global female form. Barbie sets an impossible bar of physical appearance that no human female could possibly achieve.

In order to expand their growing empire, Mattel repackaged Barbie in a variety of ethnicities. It made ethnic and racial modifications to the doll, winning the allegiances of little girls throughout the world.

Barbie in India

In India, the standard Barbie was reproduced as wearing a saree. It allowed the parents to give their children the ‘standard’ Barbie, thus fulfilling their “American Dream”, that they wanted, but with a difference that retained their ‘traditional’ culture.

The doll was not called Indian Barbie but instead “Barbie in India” as the box was labeled as “Dressing in all seasons classic saree with exotic borders, Barbie is totally at home in India.” The term “exotic” resonates the connotations of colonialism and the eroticization of Asian female body.

However, this Barbie was dressed in Indian clothing and accessories; it still had blonde hair, standard Euro- American body- shape, teamed up with a shiny saree and a red bindi on her forehead. The doll’s pigmentation was deepened only by a slight degree, and her eyes were made hazel rather than blue.

Yet, Indian Barbie shared the same pink-lips, coy smile, shining eyes, and fictitious physique as the American Barbie. An ethnic spectacle of “Indianness” was created and was promoted through the white female body of a plastic Barbie.

Later in order to redeem themselves, the Mattel productions did start producing Barbie dolls that looked much more “Indian” in their appearance.

Despite the substantial feminist criticisms of Barbie, the doll still manages to win over the loyalty of young females all over the world. The Mattel productions tasted success in India as well. They, on their 50th anniversary launched another Indian Barbie that was modeled on the actress Katrina Kaif.

Then, there were two Argentinean artists that came up with a religious Barbie based on Goddess Kali. They don’t really have any clue about the philosophy behind goddess Kali and her being the Shakti; but just because it will sell in the commercial market, they have come up with the designs.

Despite the fact that there have been changes in the appearance of the Indian doll or that it has been even modeled upon an Indian actress; its fictitious representation of the female body has seen little change since its inception. The perception of the ideal female body symbolized by it remains unrealistic and mythical. Barbie’s clothes, accessories, location, profession, clothing, hair, and at times, her skin color, have changed in different contexts but her slender, big-chested body has remained fundamentally unchanged over the years.