Come on Barbie, let's go party
Culture / February 18, 2014
Barbie’s world of controversy goes beyond the Dreamhouse.
By Sheetal Reddy
Controversy arose earlier this year when volunteer project Everyday Sexism launched a Twitter campaign, publicly asking iTunes to remove a game that allowed its players to perform plastic surgery on Barbie.
The game, called “Plastic Surgery & Plastic Doctor & Plastic Hospital Office for Barbie Version,” was marketed to children aged nine and older and encouraged its players to perform surgery on “Barbara” claiming, “no diet can help her.”
Although iTunes took the game down, CBC reported that it was still available under a different name as of Jan. 14, this time called Plastic Surgery for Barbara. Both versions of the game are now nowhere to be seen, but the news site notes that the original version of the game was downloaded somewhere between 500,000 to one million times.
Although the message of the game is abhorrent, the psychological damage may be minimal.
Cory Pedersen, a psychology instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, says that although some studies have been done to explore how Barbie’s body image affects young girls, the results have been inconclusive.
“Often, the link between exposure to ‘ideal’ media images and mental health (e.g., self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, anorexia) have been assumed, instead of verified,” she says.
Mattel, the makers of Barbie, did not create this game and it is possible that the maker of the online game took it down due to possible copyright infringement. However, Mattel itself has made some significant mistakes when it comes to the controversial doll.
In the podcast Stuff You Should Know, Josh Clark and Charles Bryant did an episode called “How Barbie Works.” The episode included some of Mattel’s mis-steps using research done by Uncle John’s Bathroom Institute.
Exhibit A: Pregnant Midge
Barbie’s friend Midge made her debut in 1963. Some controversy arose when a pregnant version of Midge was sold without her husband, even though the doll was marketed as a “Happy Family” set. Although there is some debate on the type of message the doll sent, the only fault in the doll could be in its odd design. Midge’s stomach had a small plastic baby inside, which children could yank out whenever they pleased.
Exhibit B: Coloured Francie
Mattel first introduced its first African-American doll in 1967, by way of Coloured Francie, “coloured” being the politically correct term of the time. The doll wasn’t as popular, and was replaced by Black Barbie in 1980. Yes, that was her real name.
Exhibit C: Oreo Barbie
Mattel is notorious for partnering up with companies to make different Barbie dolls. Some examples include Pepsi Barbie, John Deere Barbie, and even McDonald’s Barbie. Everything was fine until they partnered with Nabisco in 1996, to create Oreo Barbie. Going with their tradition, Mattel introduced a white Oreo Barbie, and then a black Oreo Barbie, not realizing that “Oreo” is a racial slur used by black people to call other black people who they thought were being “too white.” The doll was quickly called back.
Exhibit D: Growing up Skipper
Another doll that falls in the realm of the bizarre, Growing up Skipper grew in height, merged into an hourglass figure and developed breasts in one step: a simple crank of her arm. Mattel slowly phased out her production and replaced her with Super Teen Skipper, who later became an adult and was introduced as Hot Stuff Skipper.
Exhibit E: Teen Talk Barbie
This Barbie, made in 1992, would have been fine if it weren’t for her most popular phrase: “Math class is tough!” The podcast mentions how the Barbie Liberation Organization bought hundreds of these Teen Talk Barbie dolls and switched their microchips with talking GI Joe action figures, and then returned them. One New York Times article mentions how boys would be surprised to hear squeals of “Let’s plan our dream wedding!” coming from their action figures, while the newly reconfigured Barbies roared, “Vengeance is mine!”
Exhibit F: Wheelchair Becky
Wheelchair Becky was introduced as an attempt to diversify Mattel’s line-up of Barbies. But after a complaint from a customer, who was herself using a wheelchair, that Barbie’s Dreamhouse wasn’t wheelchair accessible, Mattel removed the doll from its line—instead of renovating Barbie’s Dreamhouse as they had originally promised.