Barbie Cultural Icon

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Barbie: Cultural Icon, New Age Guru or Blonde Bimbo?
She’s 56 years old, but hasn’t aged a day; her hair hasn’t turned gray; she hasn’t gained a pound; and she’s been number one nearly all her life. It’s Barbie, of course. Introduced in 1959 as a teenager, Barbie turned 40 in 1999. Throughout her life, she’s enraged feminists and mothers and warmed the hearts of millions of little girls. No matter how her revile her, she bounces back. Initially, just a blonde teenager, Barbie has moved with the times to become a career woman, a sportsman, an international sensation and an American icon—a true piece of American culture.

From incarnation, Barbie has been the center of controversy. Recognizing that mothers wouldn’t like this Teutonic sex doll, the famous motivational researcher, Dr. Ernest Dichter suggested that Barbie be introduced as a “teenage model” to encourage concern with proper appearance. Thus, from the start, Barbie’s function was to teach young girls to be concerned with their weight, their hair, their clothes and their face—just the fuel the controversy needed.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that she is all out of proportion. If she were a real woman, she would be seven feet tall, have a 40” bust, a 22” waist, 36” hips and five foot long legs, and she would be anorexic. Accepted as the U.S. version of beauty, Barbie reminds all the short, brown-haired, brown-eyed girls with tubbier figures that they are not beautiful. Hence, generations of young girls have struggled to be more Barbie-like. The result, critics say, is anorexia, bulimia, and a devastated self image. In some ways, this argument does not seem farfetched. Observe all of the Hollywood starlets and models with size 2 figures and flowing blonde manes. Few were born that way. Instead, they have dieted, dyed their hair, worn colored contacts, used liposuction and surgical implants to achieve a Barbie-like figure.

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