The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us
Tanya Lee Stone, 2010

I should mention something here at the top. I like Barbie dolls. I display the fancy Collector dolls on my shelves. I turn other Barbies into original characters, or pop culture characters, for display. However, I bought my first Barbie at age 23. My mother used to say that they promoted poor body image, and I accepted that... until I decided I wanted to make doll clothes, and started exploring them for myself. Now I think Barbies can be problematic, but they are too often used as a scapegoat. This is why occasionally you'll see me defending Barbies around the internet, and why I read this book.

Premise: The history and culture surrounding the most famous doll in the world.

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed in this book. I guess I was hoping for something more in depth.

As a coffee table book it's fine: the pictures are very nice, and it's a good overview of the subject. However, the sections about collecting basically only restated things I knew, and the sections about the origins of Mattel just made me frustrated that there wasn't more information.

The one big advantage that this book has is that the author includes many personal statements and opinions that she collected. These really show the range of strong emotions stirred by what seems like such a a simple thing.

As far as the controversies around Barbie, I didn't find the author's conclusions new, but she put them well, and I agree. In summary: Barbie isn't inherently the problem. Some girls and boys will probably take away a negative message from the doll, but plenty of girls will have a screwed up body image completely independently of whether or not they owned Barbies. Plenty of girls will grow up secure in themselves and their bodies, independently of whether or not they owned Barbies. The doll is one image among millions, and for every person who reports that Barbie dolls specifically made her feel bad, another reports finding empowerment in Barbie dolls, and/or more harm in comments from adults than from any inanimate thing.

I came away from this book with a strong desire to learn more about the amazing Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel and inventor of Barbie. There were a few interesting sounding books in the bibliography, so I guess I'm adding to my to-read list.

Overall, it's a good summary of the history of Barbie and the controversies surrounding her, but that's all it is: a summary.

2 Stars – An Okay Book 

Buy The Good, the Bad and the Barbie on Amazon
Buy Computer Engineer Barbie on Amazon!

1 comment:

Ann Summerville said...

Interesting that there is enough to put in a book. We had Sindy dolls in the U.K.

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