Avery good indication of how we view female beauty is the way we portray it to children. For over fifty years, the consumer market for toys has been dominated by the Barbie doll, so recognisable it doesn’t need description. Barbie has become such a cultural icon that she is the inspiration for a Barbie-themed restaurant in Taiwan, the subject of an Andy Warhol painting and a character in Toy Storys 2 and 3. The fashion show celebrating Barbie’s 50th birthday included designs by haute-couturiers from Diane von FuÌˆrstenberg to Vera Wang, Calvin Klein and Christian Louboutin.
So what’s Barbie’s story? Barbie was first invented in 1959 by an American businesswoman, Ruth Handler, after she saw her daughter playing with her dolls and noticed that she was giving her infant-bodied dolls adult roÌ‚les. Realising that there was a gap in the market for dolls with adult physiques, she created the prototype for Barbie, named after her daughter, Barbara. Apart from her actual biography, Barbie also has a fictional one.
Barbie (full name Barbara Millicent Roberts) is the daughter of George and Margaret Roberts, born in the town of Willows, Wisconsin. She is in an on-off relationship with Ken Carson: in 2004 they decided to split, but rekindled their romance two years later after Ken had a makeover. Barbie has had over 40 pets, including a lion cub and a panda, and owns a large number of vehicles, such as convertibles, trailers and jeeps. She’s also had an endless list of different careers. Her comprehensive fictional life story means that each of us can relate to her in one way or another.
Within a year of her invention, over 350,000 Barbies had been sold. Ever since then, millions of little girls (myself included) have played with Barbie dolls and, whether we like it or not, been subconsciously influenced by her body type. It is stating the obvious to say that Barbie’s figure is a ridiculously disproportioned representation of an actual female body. But here are some facts. Barbie is six feet tall with a 39-inch bust, 18-inch waist and 33-inch hips. If she were a real woman, her proportions would mean that she would have to walk on all fours and would not be able to lift her head. Her tiny body mass would also mean that she would have severe anorexi and not be able to menstruate.
In 1965, the highly controversial Slumber Party Barbie was created. The doll, clad in a pair of wavey pyjamas, came with a number of accessories including a set of weighing scales permanently on 110lbs and a book titled How to Lose Weight with one single instruction: ‘Don’t eat’. This weight would be 35lbs underweight for a woman of her height. The manual advocated total starvation as a way of achieving Barbie’s level of supposed beauty. Sure, the vast proportion of women do not try to base their looks on those of their childhood dolls. But some do.
“Barbie Syndrome” is a term that has been used to depict the desire to have a physical appearance and lifestyle representative of the Barbie doll. The Ukrainian model, Valeria Lukyanova, has forged a career from emulating Barbie’s looks. She claims that apart from a boob job, her looks are entirely natural. I am not one to pass judgment.