Barbie: from career woman to bimbo in a generation

Sex and the single toy

Share
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

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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Science versus religion in the three-parent baby debate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee