A new study recently came out from Brigham Young University, which suggests that “engaging with Disney princess culture could make young children more susceptible to gender stereotypes.” The study, by family-life professor Sarah M. Coyne, involved 198 preschoolers. The children were asked to rank their favorite toys among girl toys (dolls, etc.,) and boy toys (trucks, tools, etc.). The end result revealed that more than 61% of girls played with princess toys at least once a week, compared to 4% of boys. The girls preferred girl toys and the boys preferred boy toys (not in the same way Madonna preferred Boy Toys). The study also indicated that playing with Disney princess toys was “associated with more female gender-stereotypical behavior a year later.” Really? I am astonished at this conclusion. Who would have ever imagined that more girls played with princess toys than boys? I don’t know how much Brigham Young University shelled out to Professor Coyne to conduct this study, but if they had asked me, I could have given them the same result in a five minute phone call – free of charge. The good professor further suggested that Disney princesses, just like Barbie, give young girls a false impression of beauty, which can lead to eating disorders, depression and in their teenaged years, “risky sexual behavior.” I can’t comment on eating disorders or depression, but I do know that a dark basement, an Aerosmith album and two bottles of Boone’s Farm wine caused risky sexual behavior when I was a teen. Trust me, the last thing I was thinking about in that basement was my Barbie doll.
Now, I didn’t have the explosion of Disney princesses when I was a child, but I did love fairy tales. There were plenty of princesses in those stories. In fact, I think the fairy tale princesses had a lot more fun than the watered down, barely royal, vague, just because you wear a long dress, Disney princesses of today. If you were a princess in a fairy tale, every day of your life was fraught with danger. Not a day went by that a fairy tale princess didn’t face death. Real death. They weren’t just frozen by some jealous ice queen, or chased by a big green ogre. They could be imprisoned, poisoned, forced into manual labor, stolen by witches, or just be ruled by a despotic father who happened to be King and also an asshole. Those princesses worked for their gowns and their crowns. Let it also be noted that fairy tale princesses didn’t come with annoying songs that got repeated thousands of times a day until every inch of your brain was taken up with endless choruses of “Let it Go!” I only remember one song, Whistle While You Work, and that was from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Sorry – I mean Snow Caucasian and the Seven Little People (some fairy tales today have been rewritten to be politically correct). My parents were spared any continuous singing of that song because I never learned how to whistle. My version was more like “Hum While You Work.” Even though my favorite fairytales didn’t have special effects animated movies or themed pajamas, I don’t think I would have wanted Cinderella or Snow White in place of my slim, long-legged, bleach blonde Barbie.
As for blaming Barbie for causing unrealistic body standards in girls, I think that is highly unfair. I can’t think of any time when my friend, Nancy, and I were playing with our Barbie dolls that I ever said, “I wish I had big, plastic pointed boobs and arms and legs that don’t bend.” Never! I was also quite happy with my real feet that didn’t bend in awkward positions that made it impossible to keep those plastic high heel mules from falling off. My father was gouged many times by lost Barbie heels that got stuck in the sofa and ended up implanted in his leg. I don’t know how many the dog ate. Anyone from my generation knows the frustration of trying to put Barbie in pretend life situations with her unbendable body. My Barbie had a telephone that she could never answer because her arm stuck straight out, which made it impossible to put the phone up to her ear. The only job Barbie could have had back then would have been priming water pumps or as a professional hand shaker. Regardless of her limitations, Barbie was the best doll we ever had. We didn’t want her body; we wanted her life.
To us, Barbie’s life was a lot more glamorous than what we lived in our cookie cutter subdivision. She had great clothes, a swanky dream house and a pink convertible. We wanted her “stuff” not her minuscule waist and slim boy hips. Besides, the only reason the doll was made that way was so it would be easier to dress her in those tiny, tiny clothes. Any woman today, with real thighs and hips, understands the impossibility of pulling up a pencil skirt without first greasing her legs. I can assure you that at no time while trying to accomplish the hop-jump-hop dance of trying to fit into skinny jeans have I ever uttered, “Damn you Barbie! Why aren’t I built like you?” You’re more likely to hear me say, “Damn you peanut butter fudge brownies! Why did I eat six?” Barbie has nothing to do with how my body turned out or how I view it. If young girls today are having body image insecurities, don’t blame the dolls; blame the media.
When was the last time anyone appeared in a magazine without his or her photo being retouched? It might have been in the 1960s when the Beatles were on the cover of Life Magazine. Today, all we see are retouched photos of women’s thighs being slimmed so there’s a “gap.” Wrinkles, moles, and spots are magically erased. Waists are slimmed down, calves get a little added definition, and the rear end is jacked up higher than a Cadillac getting an oil change. There is a reason Cindy Crawford looks exactly the same in magazines today as she did 25 years ago and it has nothing to do with her natural beauty. If no one is criticizing the false impression of celebrities and models (who, by the way, are made of much more plastic than Barbie) then leave Barbie alone.
Now, I am all for making more ethnic dolls. I think it’s important for girls to have dolls that they can relate to physically, but not to the extent of the American Girl dolls. The American Girl dolls look like they were manufactured in Hell. They have creepy Stepford Wife eyes that peer deep into your soul. Not since Chucky has a doll frightened me more. When I was a kid I never would have wanted a doll that looked exactly like me. I can’t imagine waking up in the middle of the night and seeing that deadeye stare from some plastic representation of me sitting at the foot of my bed. I once had a doll that stood nearly four feet tall and had long blond hair. She was my size at the time and I would put my clothes on her. I can’t tell you how many times, while I was at school, my mother walked into my room and screamed. That doll mysteriously disappeared, although I once found a plastic foot under my bed.
My absolute favorite doll was Raggedy Ann. And trust me that was one doll I never wanted to look like either. What twisted mind came up with that prototype? “Let’s make a doll with black button shark eyes, no discerning facial features, yarn hair, striped legs, and let’s make her as flat as a pancake.” Of course, if Raggedy Ann wasn’t weird enough, the manufacturer tossed in her brother, Andy, to complete the strange family. But, as much as I loved my Raggedy Ann and Andy, it was Barbie who held my attention. Nancy and I would spend hours playing with our Barbie dolls. Every once in a while G.I. Joe and Ken would show up and take our dolls out on the town. We learned valuable lessons from Barbie. We learned how to coordinate clothes, how to dress appropriately for each occasion and I learned never to take the pony tail out of Barbie’s hair because it just leaves a big bald spot on the back of her head. My Barbie wore a lot of hats.
The bottom line is, sometimes a doll is just a doll. And while the manufacturer is making Barbie with thicker waists, wider hips and thunder thighs, how about adding a little realism to Ken? How come he still has the impossible physique of a plastic, 18-year-old athlete with washboard abs? Where’s his beer gut? How about putting some hair in his ears and giving him a receding hairline? If Barbie had to endure gaining wide birthing hips, how about giving Ken back hair and saggy man boobs? There’s something very unfair about this. And, you can bet her sweet Mattel stamped ass that when Ken gets a load of Barbie’s new “normal” body, he’s going to make a beeline for her pre-teen sister Skipper. Now, that’s reality.