Barbie’s Bad Choices

Well, Barbie has gone and done it again. A recent news report revealed that the world’s most famous doll has opted for a makeover. Sporting pink hair, tattoos, leopard skin leggings, and a dog whose name has vulgar implications, this limited edition Barbie looks like she has been spending too much time hanging out on the shelf with the Bratz dolls.

According to some reports, parents are in an uproar. Some are especially bothered by the tattoos, although the first tattooed Barbie appeared way back in 2009. Barbie has since had those removed and opted to get more. For some reason the tattoos seem to be a greater concern to parents than Barbie’s pink hair, vulgar choice in pet names, and trampy wardrobe. But nobody who has followed Barbie’s recent history will be surprised by her makeover. A few years ago she raised eyebrows when she dumped Ken and took up with an Australian surfer dude named Blaine.

Of course, Barbie’s look has changed many times down through the years, usually in conjunction with her career choices. Barbie started out as a fashion model. But she has also been a stewardess (back when they called them stewardesses), a nurse, a doctor, a paleontologist, an ambassador for world peace, a president and a hair dresser. She’s also been in the service. Barbie served in the Army, the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines. She has been a police officer, firefighter and a Baywatch lifeguard. No wonder Barbie has dropped out. Imagine all the effort it took to climb the corporate ladder, not to mention the years of schooling. Wasn’t that Barbie we saw in the crowd during the “Occupy Wall Street” march a few weeks ago?

Still, there is something iconic about the old girl. A few years ago my wife brought out her old Barbie dolls so that the little girl who was visiting could play with them. The little girl had fun with them. But maybe not as much fun as the mothers would have had if they had joined her. The truth is, this new Barbie look wasn’t crafted for little girls at all. She is a doll designed for the adult market. Barbie is as popular with adults as she is with children. If Barbie is anything, she is a mirror of modern culture. She is not so much as a measure of what American girls hope to be, as she is a cartoon about what we think we have become. Barbie tells us that we are successful. She says that we are hip. We are perennially young. Like her we can have all the best clothes and all the cool toys. Barbie promises that we can be whatever we want to be, even if we can’t. She is as American as it gets.

But the truth is, as disturbed as parents may be about Barbie’s new look, it is actually pretty tame compared to some of the things we can see on television and on the street. Even her pink hair is not as edgy as you might think it would be. Every morning when I walk from the train to my office, I pass a woman sporting a pink bob that looks a lot like Barbie’s. She is a medical professional, dressed in hospital scrubs. Perhaps she was inspired in childhood to choose such a career when she played with her nurse or doctor Barbie doll. Tattoos are main stream today as well. When Barbie first appeared on the scene tattoos were rare. Unless, of course, they were the temporary kind you sometimes found inside the gum wrapper. Every kid I knew loved those. But real tattoos, the permanent kind that you couldn’t wash off, were mostly worn by sailors and Marines.

These days the men wear earrings and women sport tattoos. Male nurses are common, women are doctors, girls can join the baseball team and you had better not call the person who just handed you a bag of peanuts on the plane a stewardess. You wouldn’t be tempted to anyway, since the flight attendant is as likely to be a man as it is to be a woman. But if it is a man, you might just ask him if his name is Ken. I’ve always wondered what Ken decided to do after Barbie dumped him.

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Published by

John Koessler

John Koessler serves as professor and chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute. His most recent book is The Radical Pursuit of Rest published by InterVarsity Press.

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