After 56 years, society may be kicking Barbie out of the Dream House.
Earlier this week, Mattel announced that sales of America’s favorite pink-loving blonde doll have plummeted lower than a Malibu Barbie's neckline. The company's stock is down 40%, a $58 million loss. Some analysts attribute it to a general lack of interest in old school toys, as kids become more accustomed to iPads and other forms of electronic entertainment.
When looking at Barbie's decline though, it's impossible to ignore the backlash against the leggy toy, whose unrealistic proportions are often criticized for contributing to negative body image issues among young girls. Last year, an artist went so far as to create an actual alternative to Barbie dolls -- called the Lammily doll -- which is built with proportions based on the average 19-year-old girl, and comes with acne and stretch marks.
Is it time to break up with our well-dressed BFF? As someone who loved playing with Barbies as a kid, I'm not so sure.
Let's get real about what girls use Barbies for...
While it seems more than plausible that Barbie may set an unrealistic standard of beauty for young people, I can't remember many times, in my many sessions with Barbie, that I ever thought about how skinny she was. This is, of course, because I was using my Barbies correctly -- to strip her naked and simulate lewd acts with Ken.
I did have a huge box of cute outfits for her, and my friends and I would take our time dressing our dolls and deciding what she was getting ready for, but this was because it is important, in Barbie role play -- as in porn -- to have some kind of a backstory. We would then tear off the outfits that we had just so carefully dressed her with, and proceed to smash her against Ken's nonexistent nether regions.
It was fun, it was funny and it was how I learned the word "humping." Let's be honest: We need somewhere to play out our innate perverse curiosity.
Half the fun of Barbie is making her less "perfect"
OK, OK, it wasn't all dirty talk in the Dream House. I also gave her DIY makeovers -- if you can call chopping off someone's hair and painting it with red nail polish a "makeover."
I was fortunate enough to own a decent number of Barbies, which meant that I always seemed to have one or two lying around that I could afford to sacrifice in the name of punk rock without my mom finding out. My cousin and I gave Totally Hair Barbie a mohawk. My neighbor and I used pens to draw tattoos all over Holiday Barbie's legs. ('Twas the season, I guess.)
This is why, while I appreciate the sentiment behind more realistic toys like the Lammily doll, I'm not sure they're necessary. For a long time, girls have been taking matters into their own hands when it came to making their Barbies less perfect. There's a satisfaction -- and I daresay, even creative gratification -- that comes with making those alterations yourself.
At this point, Barbie is an institution. And institutions can be rebuilt.
There's something comforting about Barbie being Barbie. Just as we may choose our favorite sports teams based on who our parents like, our love for Barbie can be passed down through generations.
As a kid, I had a few of my mom's old Barbie outfits, and it made me feel connected to my mother's younger self. I was also the happy recipient of my cousin's old hand-me-down Dream House when she outgrew it, and I have to think it did her heart good to see her doll's old stomping ground being put to regular (though admittedly weird) use, instead of collecting dust like a sad forgotten plaything in "Toy Story."
As nostalgic as I feel, though, I know that girls need a doll who they can identify with, who will make them feel proud of who they are and will be, rather than striving their whole lives for an impossible deep-seeded ideal. Perhaps it's time to make a Barbie with a more realistic build. After all, Barbie's appearance has changed plenty of times in the 56 years since she was first invented, and now seems as good a time as any to update her with a look that'll make her more relatable and user-friendly to the modern kids who are playing with her.
Barbie may be so perfect that she's a problem, but she's still Barbie -- an American institution as classic and iconic as the pink Corvette she rolls around in.