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Artiste’s Passion For Drowning Barbies Reveals Inner Insecurities

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

I don’t care what some of those feminists say.  I love Barbies.

When I was just a wee youngling I owned about thirty Barbies.   I loved them because you could brush and style their hair, change their clothes, and because they were…pretty.  That’s right, a little girl thought Barbies were pretty.  The heart, it palpitates!  According to the leading feminist lore (which seems to have started once the first owners of the dolls grew up and their metabolisms slowed down), this means that by now I should have developed all kinds of self-esteem problems stemming from the first moment I held up a Barbie, noticed its slim little waist and big doe eyes, and thought Gee, this is what I want to look like one day or else I will be sad.   

Funny thing is, this never happened to me.  At that tender age, the thought of comparing my body to anyone else’s–let alone a doll’s–had never occurred to me.  And a Barbie was certainly never an image of “the woman I wanted to grow up to be”–it was a Barbie.  Its figure, its proportions, its tippy-toe feet–it looked that way because that’s what Barbie dolls looked like.  The line between “reality” and “doll” was quite clear.  It was that simple. 

Nevertheless, some feminists are positive that their personal insecurities about weight/height/noses/leg length/non-pointed-feet-ness all stemmed from those innocuous dolls that they played with as girls, and they are determined that their own daughters be saved from a similar fate.  There’s little doubt that soon they’ll be saying that Bratz dolls are evil because they encourage girls to desire humongous feet and bulbous heads.

One of these women is a talented and well-meaning yet morbidly obsessed artiste, Daena Title, whose latest exhibition is entitled “Drown the Dolls.”  It is a series of paintings and photographs depicting smiling Barbies being held underwater, rendered in touchingly realistic detail.  

“I remember playing with these Barbies and being very uncomfortable,” Title earnesly explains.  “…They were smiling and sleek and smooth and naked, and you could do whatever you wanted to them and they were just silent and submissive.”  Good heavens, what sort of imagination did the young Daena have?  And didn’t she put clothes on the poor things?  “I remember thinking, ‘…is this what’s on the other side of girlhood for me?  Am I going to transform into this?  Because I really don’t want to.'” 

I’m thinking that these memories might have become slightly tainted by Title’s adult outlook, but that could be just me.   I understand what it supposed to be the cathartic nature of this exhibit.  But in any case, a whole series of artistic pieces devoted entirely to images of drowning Barbies seems less cathartic and more…creepy, wouldn’t you think?  Not to mention the strange undertones of serial violence underlying the images.  Barbie after Barbie, shown placidly floating below a rippling surface.  Blonde hair drifting about frozen smiles.  Honestly, Title, they’re only dolls.

This whole “Barbie Must Die” movement is more indicative of the insecurities of the women themselves than of any real threat posed by Barbies.  In a very bitter and angry opinion piece  published by the New York Times back in ’94 (the arguments haven’t changed much), a woman relates the following conversation between her and her daughter: “‘Mama, why can’t I have Barbie?’  ‘Because I hate Barbie. [Note: Notice how the woman says, “I hate Barbie.”  This is not about her daughter, it’s about her.]  She gives little girls the message that the only thing that’s important is being tall and thin and having a big chest and lots of clothes.  She’s a terrible role model.’  ‘Oh Mama, don’t be silly.  She’s just a toy.'”

From the mouths of babes: “Don’t be silly, she’s just a toy.”  Sadly, this is not the moment when the woman realized that she was hoisting her personal insecurities onto a doll and that her young daughter was remarkably clear-headed and unaffected by the message the doll was supposedly giving her.  This is not where she decides to rethink her whole animosity toward a piece of molded plastic and thank her lucky stars that her kid was thinking like a real kid should.  No, this was the jumping-off point to the rest of the article that essentially blames Barbie for girls’ bad body images.  And now for my slow head shake of disbelief.

What women like these and artistes like Title need to realize is when they say that Barbies makes girls feel bad about their bodies, they are only announcing to the world that they themselves feel bad about their bodies.  I can’t believe that I was an exception to the rule when, as a young girl, I assumed that Barbies were  Barbies, not prototypes of the young bombshell I was supposed to become.  The latter idea simply never entered my youthful mind.  How many girls have become convinced by bitter adult women that these pretty dolls with brushable hair were, in fact, harming their body images?  How many of them would never have come to that conclusion had the bitter adult women not brought them to it?

I suppose we’ll never know.  But I do know one thing: Barbie dolls are still one of the most popular toys in the world, and somehow there are still happy, well-adjusted little girls out there who do not pine about “body image.”  Rather, they play, as little girls should.  I say, keep the pretty dolls with brushable hair.  The kids are all right.~