When I was eight or nine, the only thing I wanted to be when I grew up was Barbie. I spent hours in my room arranging and dressing my Barbie dolls, styling their long, luxurious swoops of glossy blonde hair, and reenacting dramas comparable to those of your trashiest soap opera. Despite the fact that they lived, hillbilly sorority-style, in a Barbie Motor Home (I swear this was real) my Barbies lived a very glamorous existence, lounging around in sequined gowns, taking jaunts to the "city" (the nether regions of my closet) and going for swims in their above ground pool. They were best friends who shared clothes and always looked impeccable, their long spidery legs encased in teeny tiny miniskirts and slim pants with Velcro closures at the waist. I diligently saved my allowance to buy them spindly high heels, and pink party dresses, and tiny terry cloth bikinis, which they wore to entertain and sunbathe and throw lavish parties where they served drinks in teeny tiny cups on teeny tiny trays.
In contrast to the high-flying life my Barbies lived, I was a chubby, painfully shy child, the kind of girl who sat in the back of class and chewed on her hair. I was tormented by the other girls in my grade for not having the "right" clothes, and felt like an outcast most of the time. I truly believed that if I was Barbie, my life would be completely different. Men would fall at my feet; I'd be tall and skinny and able to wear whatever I wanted; I'd have more friends than I could count. Indeed, if I were like Barbie, I'd be gorgeous and popular just like she was.
This week I came across a book which explores issues of what the "pink culture" (Barbies, princesses, cosmetics and the like) is doing to young girls in America today, specifically how this uber-girly sub-culture, stemming from media and product marketers, is leading girls to confront body image issues and become sexualized at younger and younger ages.
Peggy Orenstein, the author of the book, attempts to determine whether pink-culture mania is merely an innocent phase or a sinister marketing plot with long-term negative impact. Orenstein travels to Disneyland, American Girl Place, the American International Toy Fair; visits a children's beauty pageant; attends a Miley Cyrus concert; tools around the Internet; and interviews parents, historians, psychologists, marketers, and others. She examines what the consumerist culture is doing to girls, and believes that when left to the advertisers, girls will learn to value what they look like and consume more than what they feel.
There seems to be solid evidence to back up this claim. According to the American Psychological Association, the emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness at ever-younger ages is increasing girls’ vulnerability to the pitfalls that most concern parents: eating disorders, negative body image, depression, risky sexual behavior. 50% of girls between the ages of 11 and 13 see themselves as overweight, and 80% of 13-year-olds have attempted to lose weight. Nearly half of six-year-old girls regularly using lipstick or lip gloss, and the percentage of eight- to twelve-year-old girls wearing eyeliner or mascara has doubled in the last two years. Meanwhile, the marketing of pink, pretty, and “sassy” has become a gigantic business: the Disney Princesses alone are pulling in four billion dollars in revenue annually.
It's no stretch to imagine how a subculture dominated by ultra-feminine and girlish stereotypes would contribute to identity development. Certain cultural concepts of femininity are aggressively and pervasively marketed to girls. These include the "princess" mindset that girls look good, are virginal and wait for the prince to arrive to rescue them. However, Barbie and her friends have taken the most heat in debates about the epidemic of body loathing. Some experts argue that Barbie perpetuates the idea that beauty, thinness and perfection are important. Barbie is all about how she looks, what she wears and what kind of cool car she drives. She is plastic, stiff, beautiful, and always smiling.
If she were alive, Barbie would be a woman standing 7 feet tall with a waistline of 18 inches and a bust of 38-40 inches. She would need to walk on all fours just to support her proportions. Yet media advertising, television and Hollywood reinforce her message, influencing what has become the American ideal of beauty. By the time a girl is 17 years old, she has received over 250,000 such commercial messages through the media. Body image disturbances are dangerous because they potentially lead to the fear of being overweight, and therefore to dieting and food restriction, to becoming malnourished and/or excessively thin, and ultimately to the onset of clinical eating disorders. Considering that ninety percent of American girls ages 3-10 own at least one Barbie doll, the impact such an unrealistic doll presents is considerable.
Do I believe Barbie caused my eating disorder and body image struggles? Frankly, no. It's too simple to blame such complex disorders on one object. But I'm so curious to know what you think. Did you play with Barbies and have princess fantasies as a girl? Do you believe these fantasies influenced how you see yourself in terms of body image and femininity? Did the pink culture send you down the wrong track, or are you a well-adjusted woman despite all the pink, thankyouverymuch?
|Free People denim vest; thrifted Klovis dress; Gap sandals; agate necklace on leather strap; Anthropologie turquoise necklace; Dolly Python leather cuff|