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.


Anonymous said...

Very true: For years I wanted to get a My Little Pony, and begged and pleaded with my parents until I got one. 6 months later, the MLP was lying in my toybox gathering dust, as I pursued the latest toy of my dreams: the Troll.

Having acquired a Troll, I realised just how hideous they were, and went back to playing with mud and bits of string, running around the woods and generally being much happier than children constantly searching for the next desirable toy.

My brother, on the other hand, wanted a Scaletrix; my parents never let him get one (getting an entire Scaletrix set for one child is a hell of a lot more expensive and stressful than getting just one MLP for the other child), and he is now going through some weird mid-life-crisis where he's bought every computer console going, and has the "latest" in everything.

Anonymous said...

As a child I was only allowed to watch BBC because it didn't have adverts (except for Sesame Street on chanel 4).

I had a few Sindys, so I'm guessing I must have asked for them? or maybe they were birthday presents from people who didn't know what else to get? Either way I did enjoy playing with them.

I guess that most children don't play with Barbie in the way that they're 'supposed' to. I did cut 'hairstyles' for all of mine and make clothes for them. I did make Paul and Sindy kiss BUT I also took them out to go mountain climbing, to discover the 'Jungle' and for potentialy deadly ventures into the 'Giant Land'.

My parents didn't allow toy guns. I never really wanted one - apart from in water fights. Sometimes a small waterfight would start in someones garden and it would spread into the street and more people would join in until eventually it would be accross the whole village . At those times we used water bombs - Completely off topic, but so much fun.

The Urban Feminist said...

Oh my goodness, I'd completely forgotten about Sindy! Does she still exist?

My mother relented enough to buy me three My Little Ponys in the end, and they were my most prized possessions for years. I gave them to a friend's little sister in the end, but I wish I'd kept them!

Anonymous said...

My Little Pony
Skinny and bony
Made out of plastic
Looks like a spastic