She was perfect. Her long blonde hair curled and flowed in just the right way. Not a wrinkle was visible on the vibrant pink dress. The swirls of purple and gold sparkles on the skirt beautifully highlighted her light blue eyes. Everything worked in harmony, decorating the canvas of blemish-free peachy white skin. At 8 years old, I finally understood what it meant to be perfect. Even under the fluorescent white lights embedded into the Target ceiling, I could see that there wasn’t even a finger smudge on the plastic window of the hot pink cardboard box.
“Mom, pleaseeee can I get her? Pretty pretty pleaseeeee?” I begged, as I tugged on my mother’s fingers to pull her back towards the object of my desires.
“Sophie, you already have that one, don’t you?” my mother sighed in exasperation.
“No, I don’t! Not this one!” I whined.
“Sophie, I know for a fact that you have this doll. Yours at home has a pink dress and a gold crown. The one with all the ruffles.”
“Nope! That’s Anneliese.” I shook my mop of black hair back and forth vigorously. “She’s a princess.”
Caught a little off guard, my mother replied, “Oh, um, I meant your other one, the one that has those pink shoes.”
My dark brown eyes widened. “Mom! You know this. That’s Genevieve. She’s a princess and a ballerina.” Obviously, ballet flats and the small pink slippers were two very different things. “This is Corinne. She’s a princess and a musketeer.”
“Okay, Sophie, no. You already have so many of those dolls and they all look alike. If you want a toy, you could at least pick something different. How about this?” My mother said, as she picked up a floppy doll from where it lay shoved between the pristine boxes.
The doll had dark brown hair, black button eyes, stubs for hands and off-white skin. The dress was simple with a patchwork of mismatched fabrics. It seemed that the person who had it last decided to trade it in for a better model at the last minute.
“See, this one looks like you. Isn’t that nice?” my mother asked, as she handed me the doll.
I held the nub of a limb between two pinched fingers and raised my eyebrows at it. “But… but… it’s uglyyyy. I don’t want to be like this doll.” As a little girl, there was only one thing I wanted to emulate. “I want to be like Barbie.”
Ever since I was a little girl, I have been obsessed with Barbie. Growing up in the 2000s, I was at the peak age demographic for when the computer-animated Barbie movies started coming out, with the most notable releases aligning with my literal birth year to the age of 11 years old.
While those movies would ensure I would have a disastrous hot pink phase in elementary school, they also would enchant me with whimsical worlds and magical creatures, providing my love for storytelling. Not only that, those movies still did an excellent job of shaping some traits I have today. “Barbie as Rapunzel”, a retelling of the classic fairy tale character Rapunzel, inspired me to be an artist just like the titular character. “Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses”, another storybook retelling, showed me how to be kind and love my family. Since the sisters in the movie have an unbreakable bond, I like to think my sibling and I tried to replicate that for ourselves. “Barbie Mariposa”, a story about an adventurous fairy with gorgeous butterfly wings, taught me how to be brave. Whenever someone is in need, I will answer the call for adventure to help in any way I can. All these morals and values stuck with my 20-year-old self.
Of course, now it’s no secret how much I loved growing up with these dolls and movies. It even got to the point where I had so many of the different versions of Barbie that I had to carry a hot pink wagon to drag them all around with me. I only wish that while growing up, I didn’t attach to the physical image of Barbie.
Barbie originally came out in the 1960s, which was a critical time as this was when the “ideal” American female body arose according to a 2018 CNN article. So of course to embody the model woman, Barbie was made to be thin, with blue eyes and blonde hair, features almost non-existent in the Asian phenotypes. Barbie was a widely beloved toy and to contrast this image, opened the possibility of facing racial bias and prejudice.
By automatically associating Barbie’s essence as being perfect, many impressionable children, including myself when I was younger, accepted this as what they needed to strive for as well into adulthood. Of course, what child wouldn’t want to look like their hero? While there are many other factors when it comes to undergoing cosmetic changes, it shouldn’t be denied that Barbie could have played a small influence, especially in the 2000s. Thus, this has led to many people altering their appearance, many as shown in a 2014 Time article. From bleaching their hair and skin to more intense cosmetic surgeries such as double eyelid surgery, nose jobs, and breast augmentations, adjustments were constantly made to become closer and closer to Barbie. This is also quite interesting since the same year Barbie was created, many of the previously mentioned well known cosmetic procedures arose when Barbie was created according to a 2021 CNN article. With Barbie being an iconic pop culture figure, there needed to be a change to celebrate minority features and body types in order to combat those issues that arose in the past.
Mattel, the parent company for Barbie, did just that, although it was well past my oh-so-formative childhood years. Now, in 2023, I don’t see dolls that are just carbon copies of the same face. There are dolls in the body inclusivity line with figures that are curvy and short. More mainstream dolls are featured in an array of skin tones, from a warm brown to a sunkissed tan. Barbie is accepting and bringing awareness to different religions such as by having dolls who wear hijabs. No longer is the staple role of Barbie a princess – she can be spotted in toy aisles becoming involved in the STEM world as an astronaut or an engineer. I only wish I had this when I was younger because this is the type of Barbie that I wanted to be.
“Mom, pleaseeee can I get her? Pretty pretty pleaseeeee?” I hear a young girl whine. I turn my head into the long Target aisle lined with an array of dolls, my feet scuffing the white tiled floors. Under the fluorescent white light, I see a young Asian girl with dark hair and dark brown eyes holding a Barbie doll that looks like me and her.
Featured image: Pexels