There’s very little that’s right about the life of Barbara Millicent Rogers. Since graduating from Willows High School in Wisconsin she’s been torn apart for her impossible beauty even though she’s enjoyed a very successful career as a schoolteacher, veterinarian, astronaut, jazzercise instructor and baby sitter while serving in the National Guard.
Despite these “Aaron Spelling approved” contributions to feminism, Barbie is once again under fire for promoting an unhealthy image of beauty and desirability for young girls. This week Galia Slayen, a former student at Portland’s Lincoln High School travels the morning talk show circuit with her own creation, a “life size” Barbie who is a dramatic representation of eating disorders.
That Barbie represents a miniature totem of the American idealization of beauty can’t be disagreed with, it would be like trying to say that cigarrettes aren’t addictive. Everyone would believe that you had an agenda that you were trying to push and you’d lose all credibility… and an election.
But what if the problem wasn’t just what OUR LOVE of Barbie tells us about beauty?
Barbie is the product of America’s sexist, racist, Mad Men era; a time when women were to be celebrated, and rewarded, for their beauty while steering clear of anything that threatened the power, and security, of the masculine. Her counterpart is the Sean Connery era James Bond, a man of adventure who accomplishes great deeds which in turn earn him the open, and eager, arms of exquisite playthings.
Barbie and Bond don’t end up together, they can’t, because neither is capable of deferring to another. This is why Ken, and a host of luridly named temptresses, merely play co-starring roles in their lives. Bond and Barbie are the representations of what the selfish and materialistic egotist in each of us fantasizes about. That’s why Moms put Barbies in the hands of their daughters and Men sit silently in darkened theaters with their sons.
You’ll notice you never hear someone complain about what Barbie teaches their daughter about materialism, or family. While we all agree that most little girls don’t grow up to look like Barbie, we don’t address the fact that becoming a veterinarian also means giving up your dream of being a family practice doctor. We actually encourage our children to train for jobs that are “high paying” while sacrificing the work it takes to be Christ honoring… because it takes money to buy a pink Jeep and a Dream House.
What is Barbie sacrificing to have a mansion? A real relationship with Ken actually, since independence truly does come at a price. He doesn’t play any part at all in building their life together, he simply joins her in her pink lifestyle and the only role he impotently fulfills is “telling her everything she wants to hear.”
Our problem with Barbie isn’t that she’s an idealization of what we desire, it’s that she’s the symbolism of what we will never have… we just haven’t yet realized that her beauty isn’t the only thing we’ll likely never achieve or maintain. This is why it’s so easy to blame her for the condition of our hearts. It’s not like Mattel hasn’t consistently reshaped her body to deal with the criticism. If you don’t believe me, head to your local retailer. You won’t find a Barbie that doesn’t feature a wider waist and more realistic bustline.
You haven’t noticed this because you already agree that Barbie is “incredible”. She’s been pushing an unbelievable agenda for so long that you don’t look to her as an arbiter of truth… which is why attacking her is such a farce.
The worst thing that can happen to a young woman isn’t that she grows up believing that Barbie is desirable, because truthfully she appeals to the narcissist in each of us. The worst thing that can happen to a young woman is that she grows up believing that having a high paying career, a host of gadgets and gizmos, an insipid gentleman caller, while babysitting someone else’s kids will ultimately be as fulfilling as being celebrated for her breathtaking, yet transient beauty.
Barbie isn’t dangerous, life is. If we don’t actually take the time to communicate to children that pridefulness, selfishness, and greed are the hallmarks of a life lived mired in sin, then we’ve failed not only their bodies and their minds, but also their souls. Our broken humanity lacks the wholeness that comes from a life lived with Christ as the center. The desperate attempt to fill that void with something other has led to self worship since our days in Eden.
If you don’t speak Gospel centered words of truth into the life of your child, it won’t matter that their totem is a beautiful doll, an action hero, or even a stuffed bear. When we lack the wholeness of Christ our totems and tikis don’t point out what is wrong with themselves, they point out what is broken about us.
What is your totem and what does it say about you? Mine says that riding around in an awesome vehicle with your dog means freedom from responsibility… while being worshiped by a princess.