The anti-Barbie… sort of…

// 10 April 2008

Cruel Brittania posts a photo on Flickr (shared under a Creative Commons license), of what she calls a “feminist Barbie”. From the tags, it looks like this doll lives at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.

The doll hardly addresses all the problems posed by Barbie (note, she’s white, still a bit on the super-thin side, etc), but her feet are not perpetually pointed, and her arms and legs bend. bigger version here.

Comments From You

Samara // Posted 10 April 2008 at 4:33 pm

I don’t really see what’s wrong with her being white. If there was a huge range of these dolls and they were all white, that would obviously be bad, but I don’t see what’s offensive about one doll being white. Besides, I think there have been black Barbies since the 90s? I might be wrong on that…

Jess McCabe // Posted 10 April 2008 at 4:39 pm

I think the problem is not so much that the doll is white, but that it appears the only doll on offer is white. Maybe that wasn’t the case – after all, this is a photo from a museum, and they may only have this one, or may only have this one on display. Barbie might have become a bit more representative by 1991 (when this doll was made), but so should a doll aimed at providing a better alternative for kids to play with, surely?

Lynne Miles // Posted 10 April 2008 at 4:46 pm

It’s not *wrong* per se, but it does reduce the impact of a doll which is supposed to be a counter to the Barbie model of Western-prescribed beauty ideals (if that is what it’s supposed to be). We still overwhelmingly associate white skin with beauty far more than, say, blonde hair or thinness (magazines routinely don’t put black models on the cover because circulation drops if they do).

Even where black women ‘get’ to be declared beautiful in the west they tend to be lighter skinned (remember the furore over Vanity Fair allegedly digitally lightening Beyonce’s skin on their cover shot a couple of years ago?). At minimum they tend to have artificially straightened hair which (arguably) is also reflective of the tyranny of caucasian beauty standards (see the evil Don Imus’ “nappy headed ho” comments last year)

If you’re going to pretend to counter the American-pie beauty ideal I think having a non-white doll is a pretty good place to start. You know, after giving her feet and genitals.

Samara Ginsberg // Posted 10 April 2008 at 4:49 pm

Lynne, I was just about to say something very similar but you beat me to it! I think it would be great to see a black doll that actually looked something like a black woman, as opposed to a white woman with dark skin.

Lisa // Posted 10 April 2008 at 6:31 pm

What about the accessories ? Are they more realistic too ? or still the Barbie-Billionaire-At-Play ? BTW Winx are even thinner. What about Barbie’s lack of nipples ? Is Barbie sponsored by Baby Formula Milk manufacturers ? or is it that strand of warped US puritanism that asks European women to leave public swimming pools because their swimsuits are not reinforced ? (This is a true story !! No nipples allowed – even if they are only causing a little bump on an otherwise modest and chaste sports swimsuit. European models lack the thick, tough, reinforced padding that protects US swimmers from such an offensive sight.)

Chloe // Posted 10 April 2008 at 10:51 pm

Good news folks, they’re ethnically diverse!

This article (from 1999) goes into more detail of the “next generation” of Happy to Be Me dolls. Apparently, they also had playsets that corresponded with workplaces like “science lab”, “bank”, “newspaper”, and “artist’s studio”. Unfortunately they also had “beauty salon”, but that’s outnumbered by four typically male professions.

Apparently they also had nipples and some semblance of genitals, which sounds like a step in the right direction to me, since all my Barbie dolls had crazy moulded-on pants.

Beth // Posted 11 April 2008 at 5:59 pm

Barbie is not anti-feminist. Please look at these and think about how that hideous doll above is somehow better than these:

The beautiful thing about all of those dolls is that, when played with, the costumes come off and you have a plethora of nationalities in every day modern clothes interacting in the imaginitive play of a child. There is nothing so very terrible about Barbie. Barbie does not dictate white-ness as the ultimate beauty. These are only a few of the barbies that are available for purchase. There are Russian barbies and Dutch barbies, African as well as Roma barbies. And yes, there are blond barbies. But there are just as many brunettes and redheads.

One might argue that Barbies proportions are not realistic, but many women do have large breasts and hips. The fact of the matter is, people need to get their facts straight. Mattel no longer makes a barbie doll with large breasts and hips. They have replaced Barbie’s body with that of Skipper, so shut up the people who have hated barbie for so long. As a woman with naturally large DD breasts, I find this very sad. There actually are some women who look like barbie. Probably more than you think, as the average breast size in the united states is a D and most women are in fact plus sized. Barbie may be skinny, but she’s easily held in your hand and played with. And she can hold any job she wants, be it astronaut of president of the united states–both which she held long before actual history caught up. Please, tell me that didn’t help solidify women’s place in culture and stop hating a doll that helped build so many young girl’s dreams, including mine.

Holly Combe // Posted 11 April 2008 at 6:26 pm

Just to clarify: why do you think the doll above is “hideous”?

Okay, so the links you’ve given show that not all Barbies are blonde and white but when I go into my local Woolworths, those are the ones that dominate. Is it the stores who are at fault here or is it simply that a variety of the Barbies you mention are Limited Edition?

And, correct me if I’m wrong as I suspect you probably know more about Barbie than I do, but since when did Barbie ever have “large” hips?

Also, the Skipper I used to have was completely flat-chested, as she was meant to be a child. Are you saying that adult Barbies are now being made with no breasts at all? Again, I may be wrong but I find that hard to believe…

Yes, there are some women who look like Barbie but I would argue that the majority of women with D cup breasts have bigger hips and waists than Barbie does in relative terms. You mention plus-size women but I don’t think anyone could honestly say Barbie represents that!

Showing Barbie being able to hold down any job she wants is all very well and good but wouldn’t you say showing her doing all that *and* looking flawless is a tad unrealistic?

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I hate Barbie but surely implying that she paved the way for female Astronauts and Presidents is a little excessive? Having said that, I think plenty would agree that, yes, you’re damn right that she “helped solidify women’s place in culture.” Just not in a good way.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds