Where's the unibrow, Barbie? Image: Barbie
Pick up a fairy tale or a comic book, or just walk down the kid's section in a mall and you will realise just how pop culture has been conditioning us over the decades. Pink is for girls and blue is for boys, and we adhere to such stereotypes as early as childbirth with colour-coded onesies.
Then come the warped body types: white skin is pretty, long hair is feminine, large eyes and puckered lips with perfectly trimmed brows are ideal. Sure, pop culture is consciously trying to change — we have women superheroes now, albeit skimpily-clad, we have fairy tales with alternate endings and even body-appropriate dolls — but patriarchy and its tentacles have left traces in our DNA.
Which is why Barbie's current move is that much more dangerous. Mattel, the manufacturers of Barbie, recently introduced 17 new dolls as part of their Inspiring Women series. And Frida Kahlo grabbed our eyeballs. In a press release, Barbie's senior vice-president and general manager, Lisa McKnight, said she's excited to launch this latest group of inspirational dolls. "Girls have always been able to play out different roles and careers with Barbie and we are thrilled to shine a light on real-life role models to remind them that they can be anything," she said.
In honor of #InternationalWomensDay, we are shining a light on even more empowering women. Joining our Sheroes lineup of incredible women who have broken barriers and paved the way for the next generation - see our new Global Sheroes. Share your role models using #MoreRoleModels. pic.twitter.com/4UoM9iekdG— Barbie (@Barbie) March 8, 2018
A commendable move, indeed. But here's where the problem lies. A figurine is usually one of two things — an action figure that is as lifelike as possible — say a Batman or Iron Man (based on fictional comic books, of curse), or caricature miniatures like say the Daenerys Targaryen figure I have on my Amazon wishlist marked for someday-when-I-have-enough-money. The Barbie doll in question falls into neither category. It is neither real — in which universe did Frida have such slender arms and legs and a thin long neck, something that's a universal identifier for Barbie dolls — nor is it a caricature. Heck, it doesn't even have the unibrow! .
So, what is going to happen when unassuming parents wanting to give their daughters better role models to draw inspiration from, pre-order these limited edition dolls at $29.99? Those daughters are going to grow up believing real women look like that. There, we just reset the clock.
It took us decades to identify that the regular ol' Barbie doll is actually promoting a body-negative image, and we could do it only after spending three times that time in realising it ourselves. Result: the curvey Barbie. By putting a Frida Kahlo doll for sale, which is as Barbie-fied as the blond bimbette the manufacturers initially sold, we are not providing a better role model, but introducing another poison into the bloodstream.
Soon, these girls will grow up believing this is what Frida looked like, must be if Barbie says so. And in a decade-and-a-half, all that will remain of Frida is this botched representation. Of course, books about her and her contribution will remain, but they will be waiting patiently in libraries hoping to be chanced upon by a soul, while these Fri-bies will rampage our collective consciousness. And you know what's worse? They will even make you believe it was a brilliant feminist move. God, no.