Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Barbie through the ages

First ever Barbie commercial - 1959

Barbie Meets Ken - 1961
Barbie manages two years without a boyfriend. Ken seems to have changed quite a lot in appearance since 1961 - he looks positively ancient in comparison to the blond Prince Charming figure that I grew up with.

Color N Curl Barbie 1965

Superstar Barbie 1976
Whatever that girl's on, I want some.

Super Hair Barbie - 1980s
"Glamorous" jumpsuit? I beg to differ!

Great Shape Barbie - 1983
This is absolutely revolting. Really, really worrying. Is it any wonder that the girls who were in the target age group in 1983 are now paying extortionate gym memberships and devouring creepy women's magazines instead of carbs? You're looking good, Barbie!

Olympic Skater Barbie
The first advert I've come across on YouTube for a Barbie who does anything not directly related to improving her appearance.

Dance Club Barbie

Glitte Hair Barbie - 1994

Teacher Barbie - 1995
A Barbie that does something non-gender specific. Hooray!

Splash & Color Barbie - 1996

Olympic Gymnast Barbie - 1996
1996 was the year that the US gymnastics team won the Atlanta Olympics. Here, Barbie embodies the American Dream...

Barbie Hair Highlights - 2006

Top Model Barbie - 2007

And finally, the whole Barbie theme is subverted in this 90s advertisement for Cool Shaving Ken. Look how ridiculous it seems when the Ken doll is subjected to his own beauty regime...

Something that really strikes me is that in advertisements featuring children playing with the dolls, the children themselves seem to have got older and older. In 1965, they look about six - around the same age as the target audience. In that 2007 commercial they look about fourteen. I wonder what's happening here - if Mattel are trying to expand the age range of their customer base, or if they're going for an even more aspirational theme.

I was never allowed to have Barbies as a child, but boy did I want them. It wasn't just about peer pressure - I wanted a Sega Megadrive and a BMX bike because of peer pressure, but neither of them had quite the same delinquent appeal. I think a lot of the time, particularly with the children of parents who disapprove of this sort of thing, part of the appeal of Barbie is that girls know that there's something a bit naughty about liking something that's just about being pretty. Mattel know damn well that what little girls want is not Nuclear Physicist Barbie, or UN Diplomat Barbie, or Human Rights Lawyer Barbie. What they want is Pop Idol Barbie, Glamour Model Barbie and Botox Barbie. Barbie has always been presented as a vacuous model with an IQ inferior to her waist measurement because that's what consumers want from her.

I think if I have daughters I'll be inclined to let them have Barbie dolls if they want them. I see no real harm in them in the context of a relatively gender-neutral upbringing and besides, banning things just draws attention to them. I think once a child wants a toy, any damage associated with it has already been done. Banning after school television makes much more sense than banning the toys advertised on it.

Seeing that Great Shape Barbie commercial really brings home for me how far we've come in the last twenty years. I really don't think that a commercial such as this would be tolerated now. I'd like to live in a world in which six-year-old girls aren't encouraged to be obsessed with dresses and make up, but I'm glad that I no longer live in a world in which six-year-old girls are encouraged to be obsessed with the circumference of their thighs.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

The Daily Mail can't spell "misogynist"

It's not that surprising really, but still highly entertaining. Witness three different spellings of the same word, only one of them correct.

Perhaps I should send them here.
(NSFW, extremely sweary and hugely offensive to disabled people...but very funny)

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Carbs are the new fat

Virtually any women's magazine you will ever read will have a feature or two on diets. Something that's really interesting is how the content of these features and the advice given has changed over time.

Ten years ago, fat was the antichrist. Women were advised to eat a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, lean protein, fruit and vegetables, but no fat! Don't eat fat - fat will make you fat. Fat must be banished from your diet. Fat is bad and evil and wrong. Men are allowed to eat fat, but any woman who eats fat will be punished by her hips expanding to grotesque proportions so that the whole world can see that she's eaten FAT.

Ooooh, I'm scared.

These days, carbs are the new fat. Now we're supposed to be eating lots of fruit and vegetables, lots of protein, and fat is allowed but no carbs at all. Pasta is evil. Bread is the antichrist. Potatoes? You've got to be kidding! They'll make you FAT.

I blame Dr Fatkins, sorry, Atkins. Ever since his bonkers diet came back into fashion and loads of Hollywood celebrities attributed their lean figures to it, the media has taken up the no-carbs mantle, trying to persuade us that eating even a small portion of the best wholegrain organic bread will turn you into the 400lb Angry Mom on Ricki Lake.

These magazines always manage to get quotes from "respected nutritionists" backing up what they have to say. Funny that the whole of nutritional science seemed to turn on its head as soon as Jennifer Aniston went on the Atkins. What's also interesting is that dieting is always linked with health. A "healthy" meal is one that won't make you fat. Even articles that have no specific weight-loss angle bang on about it. I read something in Cosmopolitan a couple of years ago that made me absolutely seethe. It was an article in which three women tried out different "healthy" diets without the explicit goal of weight loss at all. One of the women was very sporty and had previously eaten a carbohydrate-rich diet. The nutritionist put her on a low carb diet, chiding her that, "If Lucy didn't eat a carb-based snack after going to the gym, she wouldn't undo all her hard work." Right. So the only reason Lucy goes to the gym is to lose weight.

At least this U-turn from low-fat to low-carb a few years ago demonstrated just how fickle the media is when it comes to this sort of thing. What we're supposed to eat goes in and out of fashion almost with the same frequency as what we're supposed to wear. Low carb is in fashion just as skinny jeans are in fashion. Being on an 80s style, low fat, high carb diet is as unthinkable as being seen in shoulder pads with a frizzy perm.

All nutritionists always seem to have agreed on is the following:

  • Too much saturated fat is bad

  • Refined carbohydrates are bad

  • Vegetables are good (fruit is a bit controversial because is has - gasp! - CARBS in it)

  • If you want to lose weight, you need to get lots of exercise