Why Barbie Belongs on the Cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

Barbie longingly eyes a barbecued chicken. Photo courtesy Bugeater via Flickr Creative Commons.
Barbie longingly eyes a barbecued chicken. Photo courtesy Bugeater via Flickr Creative Commons.

As the Eberhart family finishes packing the contents of their Manhattan apartment in the opening scenes of the 1975 version of The Stepford Wives, a man carrying a naked female mannequin passes by. “Daddy, I just saw a man carrying a naked lady!” reports the young daughter. “Well, that’s why we’re moving to Stepford,” her father replies.

The irony is delicious: while his remark seems to indicate his disgust (“We’re getting out of this evil city with its naked plastic women!”) it in fact portends his hope for the move to Stepford, where he’ll be surrounded by women who are literally plastic and utterly compliant.

Barbie, the iconic plastic doll, is appearing on cover wraps of 1,000 copies of this year’s Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and also in a four-page advertising spread photographed by Walter Iooss, Jr., who has been shooting the Swimsuit Issue for 40 of its 50 years. A limited edition Swimsuit Issue Barbie will also be available exclusively at Target, dressed in a suit inspired by the black-and-white striped swimsuit Barbie wore at her first appearance at the New York Toy Fair in 1959.

I believe there’s more than a taste of some Stepford irony here.

{Continue reading at OnFaith!}

Judy Garland, Barbie, and the Nightingale

Sometimes a post begins with just one image. In this case, it’s this one, via my friend Gina:

Okay, so any character/person translated into Barbie becomes instantly inhumanly skinny and sexy (ever notice how Barbie is a sort of totalizing idea? Barbie in any form, dress, color, character. Even Barbie as Katniss Everdeen.)

But the Judy Garland/Dorothy Gale Barbie is especially disturbing because of Judy Garland’s own sad story. She was started on diet pills at age 8 or so. One writer notes:

Louis B. Mayer and the MGM studio at first had a hard time finding an image for Judy. She was too old at 13 to be a child star and too young for adult roles. They changed her appearance by inserting nose discs in her nostrils and caps on her teeth. They called her an “ugly duckling” and “hunchback” and chubby.

The addiction to pills–not just diet pills but stimulants and sleeping pills–led to her death by accidental overdose at age 47.

And so, to immortalize her in the form of an unearthly, oversexed iconic doll is, to me, beyond creepy. It kind of reminds me of the tale of the emperor and the nightingale, where the emperor decides he prefers the mechanical nightingale to the real one.

It’s as if Hollywood, with its ridiculous expectations, insisted upon turning that beautiful girl, with her beautiful voice, into a plastic thing that conforms to certain norms of beauty but that can’t laugh, scream, talk or cry.

Or sing.

Ken Could be Real; Barbie, Not So Much

I’m reading Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History (yes, I know, you wish you had my job) and came across this interesting tidbit:

Double-D breasts on skinny women are not all that common in nature. (Barbie’s proportions are naturally found in one out of one hundred thousand women, according to researchers from the University of South Australia; Ken’s bod, by contrasts, is found in one of fifty men.)

So…you’re 2,000x more likely to see a real-life man who looks like Ken than you are to see a real-life woman who looks like Barbie?

Searching online for the University of South Australia study, I came across the story of Galia Slayen, who’s a student at Hamilton College and and a former anorexic. She’s built a life-size Barbie body (scaling up the proportions of the Barbie doll) that she’s taken various places to raise awareness about eating disorders and distorted body image.

are you frightened yet?

from a Huffington Post article by Galia Slayen:

Once a year, at the end of February, Barbie comes out of the closet to meet my friends, strangers, and those apathetic onlookers. During NEDAW, she reminds people that eating disorders and body image issues are serious and prevalent. Holding an awareness week in high school or college is just one way to get students to discuss these important issues. However, constant discussion and education is key to dealing with and overcoming eating disorders.

how about now?

And in the article, Slayen mentions a toy we can be glad has died out:

Slumber Party Barbie was introduced in 1965 and came with a bathroom scale permanently set at 110 lbs with a book entitled “How to Lose Weight” with directions inside stating simply “Don’t eat.”

via sarabreathes.tumblr.com

Well, okay. Whatever else might be happening with the slimming of toys and pop-culture images, we can at least be happy that this one is no longer on the market…

But I’m still not thrilled that Ken is 2,000x more realistic than Barbie.