Barbie: from career woman to bimbo in a generation

Sex and the single toy

Related Topics
November would not be complete without a seasonal outbreak of toy stories. Just when it looked as if this year's PR rosette would go to the Teletubbies (on offer at pounds 100 a piece in the small ads of Loot), Mattell weighs in with the obligatory Barbie shocker. This time it's the all-new, smaller-breasted, thicker-waisted doll due to be launched next year. The implication is that the multinational toy giant is doing its bit for feminism by dumping the impossibly pneumatic old Barbie in favour of a new one - but read the small print and it transpires that this is merely a cynical bit of niche marketing aimed at collectors, completists and that lunatic fringe of parents who won't give the little bottle-blonde tart houseroom. In fact the bulk of the trade will involve the old-style, waspy-waisted nymphette and most outfits will continue to be tailored to her fantastical proportions. Imagine the scenes of humiliation in the dolls' changing room as New Barbie discovers that she can't get the shocking pink Capri pants over her sadly realistic buttocks. Does my bum look big in this?

But nine-inch dolls are only part of the picture. Although she doesn't actually appear on crisp packets, Barbie could certainly teach Simon Fuller a thing or two about merchandising. Barbie's empire includes wallpaper, pyjamas, duvet covers, condoms (only kidding). Barbie's long-standing global success may be responsible for the fact that children's toys are more gender-specific than they were 40 years ago.

If you were packed off today to Woolworths to buy a toy for a six-year- old whose sex you didn't know, you might find that the only thing suitable was a bag of sweets. The sexual stereotyping of toys is now so universal that you can no longer buy a simple jigsaw puzzle: it has to be a Barbie puzzle or a Batman puzzle. The manufacturers' ruthless genderfication of toy production has been allowed to proceed unchecked by feminism or common sense until we have reached a stage where everything from a pencil case to a tricycle is indelibly marked with the sex for which it was designed.

We may believe that all this was true only in the bad old past when the pink-or-blue paraphernalia of childhood was largely responsible for old- style sexual conditioning: Janet helped mother in the kitchen, John helped daddy wash the car. But in fact the polarisation of child's play was not as extreme as it is today. Boys might have had their train set and girls played with dolls that peed everywhere, but at least they shared the same rollerskates.

The Sixties and Seventies saw an increased interest in the exciting modern idea of unisex playthings, but the trend didn't take over. Rather, boys' toys have progressed from cowboy outfits to combat fatigues and laser- sighted rifles, and Barbie has slid down the slippery primrose path into the dolly equivalent of white slavery. Once a pretty brunette who enjoyed a lively, self-sufficient existence with snappy, street-smart outfits and a full diary, Barbie has degenerated into a materialistic trollope whose clothes and accessories makes Barbara Cartland look like Jean Muir at a funeral.

The Barbie people always insist that her career is terribly important to her in an "I want to travel and meet people" sort of way but the wardrobe tells another story. The "career girl" has gone forever; instead Nineties Barbie is a kept woman with no shame and no taste. Run your eye down the Barbie wish-list and ask yourself what self-respecting female ever paid good money for a shocking pink horse box? The faithful Ken is just a blind: Mattel should really team up with Peter Stringfellow and launch a sugar daddy.

Do toys matter? Surely it's a fine and necessary thing that girls and boys should be different? Maybe, but not if we push them both to ugly extremes of brutality and airheadedness. There is more to role-playing games than deciding which sarong to wear in the speedboat. Two generations into the sexual revolution and grown women are still reading magazines that promise to make them slimmer, prettier, sexier, Barbier. It all has to start somewhere. The bimbification of Barbie has seen her degenerate from the Busy Girl of 1960 to the Rainbow Dream Slags of 1997 that line the shelves this Christmas: this is more than just a toy story.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Etch, a Sketch

Jane Merrick

Something wrong with the Conservative Party’s game plan

John Rentoul
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing