barbie

Andrew Curry writes: Over at Quartz my colleague Jeff Yang has a post about why Barbie – now a 55-year old brand – is tanking. Here’s some extracts:

It’s been estimated that fewer than 1 in 100,000 women are genetically capable of achieving a Barbie doll’s physique, which—translated into real-world scale—would make her 5’9”, about 110 lbs., with bust-waist-hips of 36-16-33. Indeed, as researchers at the University Central Hospital in Helsinki, Finland have concluded, a living Barbie would have an anorexic Body Mass index of around 16.24—and would probably lack the minimum 17% body fat required for a woman to be able to menstruate.

And yet, Barbie’s corporate parent, Mattel, has not only refused to alter Barbie’s dangerous curves (the statistics above are based on the doll’s current mold—after a 1997 redesign that altered the icon to align her look toward more contemporary “aspirational” norms), it’s actively defended them, most recently with the declaration last week by the company’s chief designer that Barbie’s body type was functionally necessary to “accommodate how the clothes will fit her.”…

Concern about this “Barbie Effect” has prompted powerful reaction over the years. Artist Nickolay Lamm created a 3D-printed “normal Barbie” with the proportions of an average American woman, and placed his creation side by side with Mattel’s Barbie to underscore the surreal nature of the latter’s shape. Model Katie Halchishick posed nude for O Magazine, with a surgical outline of Barbie’s shape overlaid on her own plus-size (or more accurately, “typical size”) form, demonstrating the kind of knifework she’d have to undergo to approximate the doll’s sylphlike appearance. And anatomical illustrator Jason Freeny rendered Visible Barbie, putting a living Barbie’s cramped insides on display. …

But all of these responses have been focused on a reality in which most of the girls playing with Barbie—flaxen-haired, azure eyed and porcelain-skinned, except in her sun-lovin’ Malibu guise—are white. That reality began to vanish a few years ago, when in 2011 the Census revealed that for the first time in American history (okay, the second), the majority of babies now being born in the United States are non-white. …

Recently, Mattel’s stock has been in free fall, after reporting dismal holiday results. The single biggest cause of their plunging earnings: An unexpected collapse in Barbie sales in the US, which were down 13% from the previous year.

Jeff’s excellent – and much longer – piece deserves to be read in full at Quartz.

The image is by Tracheotomy Bob, and is published here with thanks under a  Creative Commons Attribution License.

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