So, ‘Plus Size Modeling’ started a campaign on Facebook – asking whether people think companies like Mattel should make plus-sized versions of dolls like Barbie.
Of course, it’s a publicity stunt. But a publicity stunt that 40,000 people ‘liked’, and which has garnered a considerable amount of press, especially in the US.
The image used was nothing new – it was actually the winning entry to a 2011 Worth1000.com photoshop competition to digitally ‘fatten up’ celebrities. Funnily enough, the photo has been mistakenly attributed to Mattel, with some people thinking that there are plans afoot to create such a doll. Curiously, or perhaps wisely, Mattel seems to have stayed completely quiet on the matter.
This isn’t the first (and I’m guessing it won’t be the last) time that attention has been drawn to the unrealistic proportions of Barbie; we’ve had artists compare Barbie to real women: http://www.myvouchercodes.co.uk/the-code-word/what-would-barbie-look-like-in-real-life/
We’ve had doctors compare Barbie to real women, even to the extent of calculating that Barbie would not have the requisite amount of body fat to menstruate. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7920962.stm
We’ve had eating disorder sites deconstructing the media’s treatment of women and obsession with size, and studies showing that girls exposed to Barbie as opposed to a more realistic sized doll had less self-esteem about their bodies, and a stronger desire to be thin. http://www.rehabs.com/explore/dying-to-be-barbie/
More worrying is that we’ve even had young (and not so young) girls go to drastic lengths to make themselves look more like dolls. Valeria Lukyanova has reputedly spent $800,000 on plastic surgery to make her look more like her idol.
And yet, Barbie dolls are still on sale 55 years on, and people are still buying them. It’s hardly surprising – after all, the images we see in magazines of models and celebrities are more representative of Barbie’s dimensions than they are of the real female form.
But which came first, the chicken, or the egg? Did generations of children growing up being marketed the implausibly proportioned Barbie learn to love the lean, or is Barbie merely holding up a mirror to the attitudes already prevalent in society, and giving consumers what they want?
Let’s be brutally honest. I’m not convinced a plus-size Barbie would be anything more than a flash in the pan. So what’s the answer, I wonder?
I think it has to start with campaigns like the one above. If photographs are digitally enhanced, they should say so. And, more’s the point, the disclaimer should be required to be of a size that people can actually read it.
Or even better, retailers should have the confidence to mount campaigns like this US lingerie brand. And we consumers need to vote with our feet and our wallets to support them (hell, not that I look a jot like her, but it’s a step in the right direction…).