I’M A BARBIE GIRL, IN THE REAL WORLD

Mattel has announced a new range of ‘realistic’ Barbies. Customers will now be able to choose from three body types, seven skin tones, and twenty-four hair shades. While the collection may have limited direct social implications, and is undoubtedly a ploy to regain lost traction in the toy market, the latest additions do sport the badge of realism and diversity. This has to be seen as a step in the right direction.

 

As an icon and the most realistic doll out there, the plastic figure has a heavy responsibility, serving as a role model to millions of young children across the globe. So far she has failed in her duties. Adults criticise and blame her for embedding all sorts of insecurities, while their children play innocently. All the while they are unknowingly yet another generation to be conditioned to think that being anything other than a white, blonde, blue-eyed, tall ‘woman’ with a pinched waist, thigh gap and perfect boobs, is no good.

 

It’s in Barbie’s very nature to evolve: she was after all modeled on a German hooker doll, ‘Lilli’. The creator, Ruth Handler has been known to say that “every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dream of her future”. Funnily enough, mothers haven’t tended to be so keen on their children dreaming of their future involving being paid for sex.

 

But so far, by way of social awareness, the company’s modifications of Barbie lie merely in her clothing: astronaut Barbie in the 60s, disco Barbie in the 80s. Never before have they dared such radical progression as to allow her to eat. Never before have they accepted that children of different races might like to play with a toy that lets them dream about their own personal future.

 

What Mattel has done is not revolutionary. Barbie isn’t the first in a line of brands, like Dove, to respond to growing resistance to society’s obsession with the visual utopia that is presented to women. Consumer demand has called for a reality check. Producers have been, albeit slowly, responding. It’s simple economics, not groundbreaking morality.

 

But the change is still significant. Even if it is the smallest of steps towards social equality. Even if it is to keep up with competitors. Even if people only buy the already existing, outdated Barbie. It’s important because toys are important cultural symbols: they reflect what we as a society deem appropriate for our children to identify with. Dolls help to shape our children’s – aka society’s future’s – view of beauty. For the individual, ‘realistic’ Barbie will hopefully go some way to show children that their own looks are iconic. Broadly speaking, children playing with dolls that are of a different colour, or body shape, or are ginger, instills acceptance, even a love of diversity.

 

Beauty ideals are not a fixed, but they are pretty entrenched in our culture. Dove may make already insecure adult women feel better about their ‘flaws’, but to really change our perception of what is beautiful, to really create a society which unanimously celebrates diversity, we must look to the impressionable souls of the future generation.

 

The designers of Barbie’s endeavours most probably boil down entirely to a need to respond to increasing competition. But so what? Their response to consumer demand is a mark of how our culture of prejudice is waning; so much that an item that has been an icon for 57 years requires dramatic revamping to avoid fading out of the market. For that reason I could not be happier with this new line of Barbies.

 

 

 

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I’M A BARBIE GIRL, IN THE REAL WORLD

It’s Time For Me To Stop Admitting And Start Accepting

I have epilepsy and it’s time I accepted it. I don’t exactly hide it: pretty much everyone who knows me is aware I have it and I’m not ashamed to say it. But as I of all people should know, talking is the easy part.

 

I can say it and I can talk about it as much as you want me to, but I can’t myself accept it. Notice how I’m saying it as if my mind won’t even give it a name like if I name it I may be labelled or it may actually be a real thing that actually affects me. I can accept the word being associated with me, but not the thing itself and even less the idea that I have to make lifestyle changes to accommodate for the consequences of having it. As a result I have gotten pretty used to failing, and thus have lost my confidence and any sense of what I want to achieve.

 

I didn’t even notice I was having difficulty dealing with it until now. During school my focus became survival and any notion of dealing with having epilepsy was put aside into the later pile. And it (just) worked. I did not get what I wanted, but I left school with 4 A levels. So, why couldn’t I always put dealing with epilepsy in the later pile?

 

I can’t seem to anything, that’s why: University, no; full time job, no; partying like the rest of the 20year old population, no. The only thing I can do successfully for a long period of time is nothing, but who wants that? Every time I try something I seem to end up failing and feeling like a whole load of idiot; like I’m the old me being lazy or pathetic and using my epilepsy as an excuse. But it’s not an excuse, it’s a reason.

It’s not that I can’t do things (at this point in my head my primary school teachers congregate and chant “there’s no such thing as can’t”), it’s that I don’t have any sense of my limits due to my inability to swallow my pride and create a realistic framework of short-term possibilities. I therefore I feel I can’t achieve anything, when really the problem is I’m trying to achieve unrealistic goals. In my head I am still that 16 year old who dreamt of going to Cambridge and becoming a political speechwriter. That girl could work day and night just because she wanted to and she had the determination to achieve her goals. This girl has both the will and determination, but she has less of a capacity to work such hours.

 

People only tend to see the tonic-clonic seizures, the ones you associate with Hollywood epilepsy. But there is a lot more that goes on and is less understood. There’s the petit mal (eg déjà vu, absences, auras etc.), possible knock on illnesses such as migraines, or side effects of medication such as fatigue or memory loss. There are also, of course, mental effects such as lowered self-esteem and panic attacks. For the record all of the above I have suffered, or still suffer from.

I am starting to realise that it is my epilepsy, not me, that has been the hurdle tripping me up at each open door. Well actually, no. More precisely it’s a combination because it is also my attitude towards the whole matter. A year ago any suggestion of me becoming t-total I laughed at and I saw it as patronising to suggest I did part time work at first instead of plunging into a fully fledged career. As my doctor says some things we can’t help, but others we can. I wanted to battle epilepsy not work with it towards success; I was prepared for a fight, I just chose the wrong one. This lack of acceptance has fogged my mind more than my medication. It has left me in a helpless rut, dug deeper because time and time again I have had to quit impulsive decisions that were in reality desperate attempts to keep life as it was before.

 

So. I’ve learnt the hard way. I have epilepsy and because of that I am (for now) physically and mentally suited to achieving smaller goals, which will in time amount to no less achievement. I do not regret this past year; in fact I have a lot to thank my stubborn ruddy mindedness for, getting me so lost. But lost I have been and it is clear now that my end goal(s) do not have to, and should not change. It is my plan of action in the meantime that does. I have to be able to crawl before I can walk.

 

But as I said before, the talking is the easy part….

 

 

It’s Time For Me To Stop Admitting And Start Accepting