Are Barbies Really That Bad for Girls?

Everyone hates Barbie. Is it because she’s tall, leggy and disproportionately well-endowed? Or is it because her lashes are permanently curled to perfection and is always matched up with the incredibly good looking Ken? Banish the biatch from shelves for good (or at least hide them behind a bunch of much uglier toys). Do what you gotta do, Iran—this pernicious piece of Western culture is eroding morality codes everywhere!

Reuters reported earlier this week that Iranian government officials have recently been enforcing a ban on Barbie dolls as part of a “soft war” against decadent cultural influences. The public must be protected from what they believe to be eroding traditional Islamic values, and Barbie has been deemed un-Islamic since 1996 because the doll incites “destructive cultural and social consequences.”

“About three weeks ago they (the morality police) came to our shop, asking us to remove all the Barbies,” said a shopkeeper in a toy shop in northern Tehran. Though the ban has existed for years, it had yet to be overtly enforced until a few weeks ago, when officials threatened to shut down shops that sold the doll. Instead, Barbies are being hidden behind long veils and other toys to still meet stores’ high customer demand.

Iran’s Barbie ban is this week’s Hot Button Issue, and it’s yet another unflattering angle for the flawless female form. Throughout American history, she’s already collected so much smack for promoting an unattainable standard of beauty and reinforcing a philosophy of white supremacy. And such a pervading definition of perfection is pretty persuasive when constantly played with from a young age, right?

Well…

I’m sorry, but part of me has to disagree. Maybe I’m one of the few American kids who grew up peacefully playing with Barbie dolls without wanting to actually look like them or feeling badly about myself when I looked in the mirror and was then reminded that we were so starkly different. I also didn’t get these feelings whenever I played with Cabbage Patch Kids, teddy bears, Tamagotchis or Super Mario Bros. And on a more serious note, I also never wished to physically identify with perfect actresses or cartoon princesses on TV (really, I think this might be just me who escaped this, but props to you if you did as well).

However, it’s hard to believe that a complete erosion of values or countless body image issues can route solely from one doll, one toy, one childhood token that was supposed to spark your imagination instead of brainwash you with harmful messages. Barbie is supposed to be anything and everything, from a hardworking stay-at-home mom to the President of the United States. And she literally could’ve been whatever you wanted her to be, right? I mean, she’s a doll! She didn’t come packaged with preset plot lines or a concrete back story that you had to stick to as a kid. Does she have to simply stay skin deep just because she’s pretty? Isn’t how we played with a toy more reflective of how we were raised or what other messages were shaping our worldviews until then, rather than a reflection of the toy itself? People create different things out of plain pieces of paper, and outcomes will vary depending on whose hand a weapon is in…it’s not completely up to the material itself, but the person who actually does something with it and then shelves away the blame. Why attribute so much child-raising responsibility to a piece of plastic purchased from a toy store?!

I acknowledge that there must be some kind of continuous ripple effect: one standard of beauty set another; little girls saw Barbies and grew up to become young Hollywood who in turn shaped young America who now has no idea what to do about it, even though there are now Barbies and dolls that reflect various physical characteristics across the board. And I really do apologize if you feel that your childhood companion set you up with an unrealistic physical standard and actually hurt you in the long run (seriously, I do understand that logic, and I really am sorry).

To be honest, I’m still shocked that kids these days—anywhere in the world—still have the capacity to play with Barbie dolls, a toy that doesn’t have any batteries, flashing lights or access to the Internet. In fact, the fact that this ban is still being circumvented by shopkeepers and customers alike actually kinda gives me hope for the dissipating attention spans of the children of the future. But that’s a whole ‘nother issue.

Ashley is a UC San Diego grad who is holding on way too tightly to a potential career in magazines and goes to Vegas all too often. She’s fascinated with celebrities and strawberry beer and doubles as a pathological texter/emailer/blogger. Feed the addiction with tweets @cashleelee. Thanks in advance.

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