BARBIE

WHY SATIRIZE BARBIE?


We know her

Barbie is so easy to satirize because she is so well known. Americans and people around the world know who Barbie is. Because she is so easily recognized, one can simply make reference to her without having to explain.

Vehicle for social criticism

Beyond being first well know, commonly satirized subjects are often controversial. There is something debatable about them. Being an American icon who is adored by many a young girl, Barbie is vulnerable to criticism. Her creators at Mattel have been criticized for creating a doll which negatively shapes young girls' images of themselves and their bodies that follow them into adulthood. Barbie's body structure is not one which is physically possible. Therefore Mattel is criticized for presenting and upholding an icon who's image is physically unnattainable. Many worry that the doll has helped create a unrealistic standard for girls and women which they cannot live up to. Not being able to be as perfect as Barbie, they argue, festers low self-esteem and self-loathing in girls.

Of course Barbie alone is not to blame. She has prospered in a society where standards like these can be found everywhere: magazines, fashion runways, television, etc. But the arguement lies in the opinion that Barbie has contributed immensely to our culture's obsession with beauty. At the heart of this arguement is that she defines beauty as being white. Although Mattel has made an attempt to address diversity in their development of new, more ethnically diverse products, the blond, blue-eyed, leggy, perky breasted model remains the central figure. When we think of Barbie it isn't the sold for a limited time only Native American Barbie that comes to mind. Blond, white Barbie remains Mattel's best-seller by far.

It is the way we have seen the Barbie image perpetuate itself in our society that concerns people most. Pamela Anderson's bleach blond hair and breast implants (oh wait, we can't forget Jenny McCarthy) attest to an ideal which girls see not only in TV personalities, but most importantly in their favorite doll. Not only has Barbie come to represent a body ideal, but also an empty head. It is almost unbelievable that Mattel made a talking Barbie which spouted phrases like Math is Hard. The message such a doll gives to girls cannot be one of intelligence. It is all of these fears and concerns which lead those who recognize and accept them as valid arguements to satirize Barbie.

Many who make fun of the doll are doing so in an attempt to raise these issues, making their concerns part of the public's conciousness. They take the doll and turn her into a teaching tool. Using satire is an effective means of getting people to pay attention to serious concerns. Browsing through the satirical Barbie sites is first of all funny. But while you're doing so it becomes apparent what purpose making fun of her is holding for the author. Satirists' mock imitations of Barbie can serve many functions, but primarily they are a way to present those things which are believed to be lacking from Barbie's image.

For example, the image to the left (view larger) is a well-known satire of Barbie. Erica Rand gives an explaination of this image's purpose in her book Barbie's Queer Accessories:

In the interest of making Barbie look wholesome, Mattel makes silence about sex the rule and doesn't give its teens condoms for the same reason that most school boards don't: to avoid appearing to have authored or authorized sexual activity. AIDS Barbie addresses the consequences of maintaining that nice girls don't use condoms by paradying Mattel's theme-with-variations trope. It shows three AIDS Barbies, each accessorized with different complications far beyond those Barbie ever appears to contemplate- And she thought that math class was tough!
This is only one area of criticism which AIDS Barbie is speaking to, but more generally, this example shows how satire can be used to address serious issues.