Good on Mattel for making a big splash last week about the new Fashionista Barbie dolls. Publicity equals sales. Yay, Marketing Department!
(I used to be a marketer. I get it.)
But I don’t think tall, petite and curvy Barbies with seven skin tones, 22 eye colors and 24 hairstyles do a whole lot for the evolution of girls.
Or least, the tall ones don’t. I won’t speak for the petite, the curvy, the green-eyed or the blue-highlight-coiffed among us (except to say, wasn’t Skipper petite?).
“We have to let girls know, it doesn’t matter what shape you come in,” Mattel’s promotional video says, “that anything is possible.”
Um, no. Not anything is possible.
Tall Barbie can’t be a jockey. And she doesn’t fit comfortably into a standard airplane seat. And there’s still no way her feet are proportionally sized; tall girls need a bigger platform on which to balance.
I was a tall girl. And Barbies of average height didn’t make me feel like a freak.
Here’s the real question, which Google couldn’t answer for me: Is tall Barbie taller than Ken? If not, tall Barbie is just another doll who fits into the expectation that boys should be taller than girls.
And not all of them are.
I distinctly remember the moment I figured this out.
It was seventh grade. Between classes, a hundred or more seventh graders rumbled through the basement of Wadena Junior High School, an ancient three-story structure that probably had lead paint and asbestos pipes (it’s long gone, and so is the evidence).
In the basement, the girls’ lockers, the girls’ bathrooms and the band room were grouped on the south side of the basement. The boys’ lockers, the boys’ bathroom and the shop (where all kinds of leather tooling, drafting and small engine repair were practiced) were on the north end of the long, low hallway that bridged the sexes.
In today’s age, I assume boys’ and girls’ lockers are evenly mixed between the shop and the home ec classrooms, but not back then. Yes, I know, you instructors of family and consumer science, home economics doesn’t even exist anymore. Some things change, some things don’t. Like how tall are adolescent boys in comparison to adolescent girls.
Back to my reverie. Between classes, I walked that hallway gauging how close the boys’ heads came to the ceiling. Because at 5-foot-8, I had a bird’s eye view.
This was the moment I became self conscious about my height. Shopping for pants only reinforced my insecurities. This was the ’80s, and high-water pants were the most embarrassing fashion choice I could make. Oh, yes, I needed the Nike swoosh on my shoes, and ponchos and peace signs had become weird throw-backs, but short pants? The very worst. Finding pants long enough for my inordinately long legs was a feat I would spend hours, days, weeks to accomplish.
By the time I figured out I was “too tall” in seventh grade, I was past learning lessons from any forward thinking Barbies. Maybe I was taller than all the boys (and all the girls for that matter) when I was playing with Barbies in second, third, fourth grades, but I didn’t realize it and playing with tall Barbies was not necessary then to make me feel less like a freak.
So this whole tall Barbie promotion amuses me. “Imagination comes in all shapes and sizes,” Mattel spouts. Platitudes are awesome in marketing materials. Hard to argue with that. (A better platitude would be that “beauty comes in all shapes and sizes,” but I’m just a critic.)
What tall girls really need more of is short Ken. Short Ken should never ask tall Barbie to wear shorter heels. He should never call attention to tall Barbie’s height except to comment lovingly on her long legs. When he slow dances with her, he should nuzzle her chest and tell her how much he loves the eye view. He should never complain about his own height because that makes tall Barbie conscious of her own.
OK, I kid. Tall Barbie needs to love herself just as she is, and to heck with what Ken thinks.
But I really hope her pants are long enough.