A lot of our ideas for what “pretty” is gets determined on the pages of magazines and the screens of our televisions. For little girls, even the dolls we play with say something about waistlines, eye shadow and super cool ponytails. However lots of things are changing for the better! Dove ads have revealed the beauty of everyday women. Clothing lines like Calvin Klein and H&M are featuring models long considered plus size (translation: sizes 6-10) in their campaigns. Now, even Barbie is getting a makeover. Continue reading
The notion of ‘beauty’ in our culture tends to be more limiting and shame-inducing than cathartic. What should be a soul-expanding experience of aesthetic pleasure gets confined to a manufactured pill box, forced down our throats by television, magazines, advertisements, the porn industry – you name it. We all suffer from this together as a society, but women, most of all, bear the brunt of the abuse.
In preparing to make the 1982 film Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman was determined to look as much like a woman as possible. If the audience had to suspend disbelief to follow the story, Hoffman explains in an interview with AFI, then it wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t until he looked at himself in the mirror, fully costumed as a female, that he realized the reality women live with every day. If Hoffman saw his female self at a party, he confesses, he wouldn’t give her the time of day. The realization brings him to tears. Take a look:
This might seem overly tidy. “Hey, Dustin Hoffman, try being a real woman for even a day and you’ll experience some truly gnarly things. And before you whine about not making an attractive woman, let’s think about what beauty really is.”
But his emotional response is more nuanced than that. Hoffman bemoans the socialized notions of beauty that kept him from approaching women who might have otherwise added to his life with wit, intellect, and grace. How many women, he wonders, did he miss the opportunity of knowing, just out of prejudice?
The question we would add to that is: Why do we as a society continue to let anything but our own hearts dictate what we find beautiful?
What do you think? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!
If Barbie were a real woman, she would have half a liver, a head too heavy for her neck to hold up, and feet so tiny she’d have to move on all fours. The iconic Mattel doll’s proportions are so wildly unrealistic yet pervasively admired that it’s no wonder women around the world are plagued with a sense of inadequacy.
Well move aside, Barbie, because there’s a new doll in town! Artist Nickolay Lamm has created a 3-D model of what Barbie would look like if she were based on the proportions of an average 19-year-old American girl (as reported by the CDC.) Granted, the average 19-year-old will have a youthful body, a fast metabolism, and may not yet have had children – so her body is still going to look a lot different than the average adult woman’s. But with eating disorders and body image issues so prevalent during teenage years, it’s imperative to have representations of beauty that model something closer to real life.
In an interview with Huffington Post, Lamm said, “If we criticize skinny models, we should at least be open to the possibility that Barbie may negatively influence young girls as well. Furthermore, a realistically proportioned Barbie actually looks pretty good.”
Drum-roll, please! Here is Barbie as a beautiful young woman, who would have a head raised high, a full set of organs, and two sturdy feet to carry her to college, work, or wherever her heart wishes!
What do you think of this re-imagining of the Barbie doll? Is it still too far from what the average woman’s body really looks like? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!
There’s a character on television’s The Vampire Diaries who is called “Vampire Barbie.” Which I think is kind of ironic. Because on the one hand, vampires aren’t supposed to see themselves in mirrors – and yet, that’s what the cultural icon of Barbie is all about. A certain kind of unattainable, bizarrely proportioned, able-bodied, white, blonde-haired, and blue-eyed beauty ideal – an ideal that reflects back to girls and women what we are not rather than what we are.
This idea of “the false mirror” is one I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Because I think it’s a sociocultural secret weapon for a lot of different oppressions – sexism, racism, able-ism, homophobia. Each of us are shown an image of a “normal” that is antithetical to who we are, and in the process, rendered unable to see our own true reflections in the world around us. The most insidious thing about this onslaught is that it isolates us, limits us from making alliances with others, and prevents us from seeing its systemic roots. “This is about me” we think in our miserable solipsism, rather than thinking “this is about capitalism, imperialism, and body oppression and I’d better hurry up and raise hell about it.”
This post is an excerpt from my first post as a new contributor at AdiosBarbie.com. Click here to read the rest of the post!
The other day, my 6 year old put on a ‘puppet show.’ There were tickets with our names on them, seats, and a curtain that also sometimes doubles as a homemade fabric-painted superhero/princess cape.
The plot of the show was fascinating – rife with transcultural references to our new globalized world order. Gender, myth, tradition, and ritual were all critically examined and challenged, as were thinkers like Freud, Judith Butler and Laura Mulvey.
Most importantly, the performance underscored the critical connections between old and new stories (check out Ganesh with his laddus and the cable remote over here), the importance of, as fantasy writer Cindy Pon has recently said, recognizing how connected mythological traditions and folk stories are across national and cultural boundaries. And of course, how important it is, when writing about myths and traditions, to both be respectful, but not, well, lose the fun of it.
So back to my obviously brilliant daughter’s show. What was the plot? In short – the scene opens to danger. Ganesh is in trouble. He is being chased ("Help! Help!") by a magical lanyard snake (*cough* phallic symbol anyone?) and the voyeuristic desires of a giant pair of binoculars ("Don’t LOOK at me like that!"). The tension mounts. The audience is on the edge of their, well, sofa pillows that have been arranged on the floor. And just when we think that poor Ganesh, Hindu god and remover of obstacles, is going to be, like, obliterated, the heavens open and an apsari arrives. No, actually, it’s actually not a divine feminine figure from Hindu mythology. Rather, it’s that divine symbol of gendered Western commercialism – Barbie. And wouldn’t you know it? Even without her pink plastic convertible (this isn’t Malibu Barbie we’re talking about, after all), my girl Babs, like, totally saves the day!
So then it occurred to me that, gosh dang it, kids say the darnest things. (and then, "Dude, my kid is sooo getting into Harvard.")
I mean, come on, wasn’t it incredibly insightful of the playwrite to interrogate Ganesh’s performance of masculinity as a site of serious Hindu cultural tensions? (For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Hindu myths: Ganesh, elephant headed son of Parvati and uber-masculine Shiva, has always been a bit of a mythological mama’s boy: created by Parvati alone while Shiva was out of town on a millenia-long mediation retreat, he is the ultimate son of a single mother. In fact, it was Ganesh’s father’s inability to recognize him that made Shiva – who’s always had issues with anger – blow off his, er, head. And then, realizing it’s *bummer, dude* his son, Shiva goes and gets the head of an elephant to replace it with.)
So here was my daughter enacting that crisis of masculinity (hello? your father can’t recognize you as his own as you guard your mother’s bathroom door and therefore – at least temporarily – kills you?) with that symbol of the attacking lanyard phallus. (Thank goodness the Lord Ganesha, rolly-polly lover of sweet laddus, never had to go to Camp Vrindavan and make lanyards with the other divine/mythological kids – he would definitely have been picked last for volleyball team.) In fact, even when his mother Parvati (also called Durga) insists Ganesh get married – being the first son of the family and all – he can’t replace his mother’s power and her role as his #1 leading lady – so he marries a banana tree.
And then there’s the cross-cultural crossover and gender role reversal issues enacted by Barbie. I mean, it so didn’t matter that this particular Barbie was dressed in, like, some seriously satiny and sparkly pink princess dress. NOR that her stomach plays a weird version of Brahm’s Lullaby (I think that’s what it is) when you press her (rather flat – she must do a lot of pilates) abs. No, none of those trappings of consumerist femininity mattered, man. Barbie kicked some serious butt in this play. She swooped in swept poor Ganesha right off his feet. If he was wearing glass slippers he would definitely have lost them (of course you shouldn’t wear shoes during acts of Hindu worship, so he wasn’t).
Although The Gita is a bit sketchy on references to the divine acts of Barbie, that’s obviously a serious shortcoming of the Hindu holy book. I mean, Barbie didn’t just save Ganesh from the attacks of a mainstream masculine expectation ("rock on, Mama’s boy, there’s room for all kinds of masculinity" I almost heard her saying), but also from the scopophilic desires of an all-seeing eye. As the makers at Mattel clearly know, it was Michel Foucault who taught us that the power of the state over individual bodies is enacted through the gaze – for those of you unfamiliar with cultural studies or French philosophy, think the unblinking ‘eye of Sauron’ in The Lord of the Rings. And dude, what other feminine superhero knows what it is to be oppressed by the voyeuristic gaze than Barbie? (or maybe Wonderwoman – that bustier-like superhero suit was clearly meant for the gaze of the masculine Other, not her own invisible-plane-flying convenience.)
But Babs wasn’t having it, man. She wasn’t going to give into the enactment of state power. She wasn’t going to be a docile body. Nor, for that matter, was she going to stand around, all perky-chested, and allow her fellow gender-role-transgressor to be oppressed. Nope, she was all for solidarity across mythic traditions (Hindu, US consumerist), and against gender binarisms. She kung-fu-ed that lanyard and those binoculars to Kingdom-come. (or at least, all the freakin’ way across the family room fireplace, which is far, dude.)
So the writing lesson from my daughter’s fabulous theaterical extravaganza? To play with mythological traditions, and across them. To do unexpected things. To enact politics in writing without hitting people over the head with them. To have fun – fill your writing with wit and whimsy and extravagant things.
Culture isn’t only serious. Myths are living, breathing, and dynamic stories that can give insight into deep philosophical questions, but also hours of family fun.
My new favorite "kids book that will never get written" is Barbie rescues Ganesh. What are some of yours?