So, Mattel finally bends to the overwhelming gripes from irrational, bored consumers with a bit too much time on their hands and made Barbie "more relatable", by introducing a whole new litter of the doll sporting curves, shorter legs, bellies, hips and a rainbow of hair colors and textures. Basically, they've demoted Barbie--a completely innocent bystander here--and replaced her with a posse of "basics". Awesome. Because that's enlightening your kid. Sure.
Before you address that angry letter, hear me out.
I hate to break it to you, but eventually your child is going to have to learn that some people are just goddam gorgeous and it's entirely unfair. But I deeply hope they discover this truth from mingling with actual living people rather than 12in plastic dolls. When I was little, I LOVED Barbie. Probably for a solid decade I played with her and her friends more than any other play-thing I was ever given. Whitney, the brunette Barbie, was my favorite as was Derek, the brunette version of Ken. I acted out all of my adolescent feelings, curiosities and transgressions through Whit, Der and their best plastic pals. I experienced my first breakup through their on and off love affairs, their fights and many reincarnations. Der was a real big cheater and found it near impossible to stave off Jem and her Holograms' advances, most of which would leave poor Whit in tears, fleeing Barbie's house before ripping off her velcro polyester gown in sheer anguish as she fled in her friend's pink Corvette, only to crash off the highest mountain (my bed), before waking up in the hospital, Der by her side, like it was all a vinyl-induced nightmare. Would I have adored Barbie any more had she not been such an exquisite creature and instead more "relatable" to me in body circumference? No clue, honestly. Because what I nostalgically recall about Barbie and her friends during all those years was that she was simply a gorgeous pretend-thing I enjoyed creating scenes with. I never idolized Whitney nor her 12in cousins as role models I wanted to emulate. I knew then, as a 7yr old, that she was just a doll to be played with. Simple as that. She taught me nothing outside of dress-up and Soap Opera-esque dramatics. Had I inquired about versions that looked more like "me"--a scrawny short, pimply kid with braces--I'm positive my mother would have obliged. There were plenty of options available on shelves, especially after the American Girl Dolls hit the scene, before I grew out of my juvenile interests. When I picked Barbie out of the pile it was because I was in the mood for some adult make-believe involving boobs, glamour, and highlights. Things I hadn't yet experienced in my childhood and I found it fascinating to experience that for a moment with my undisturbed imagination. My curiosity of adulthood and the female anatomy was facilitated through Barbie and Ken during a time when life had a more delicate filter for kids. Before social media ever existed and primetime television was still easily considered PG. Barbie was a classy, yet sexy vixen intended for high fashion and star status. The supermodel before supermodel-celebrities. Of course she wasn't human, with human proportions. She was never intended to be so.
Ruth Handler created Barbie in 1959 after watching her daughter play adult-like scenes and characters with her child-like dolls. This was the era of classic Hollywood screen gems, the Golden-Age, before raunch took precedence. Children could choose between a blonde or brunette Barbie then, and Christie, the first Black Barbie hit the scene in 1980, sporting a gorgeous super trendy afro and red disco-era jumpsuit. Barbie has held 137 jobs since her existence, from McDonald's fry-gal to Breakdancer, Mother, and Astronaut. If that resume doesn't scream ambition I don't know what would. Barbie deserves a lot more credit than for solely being blonde, beautiful, and anatomically incorrect.
Personally, I would have liked to see a more "natural" Barbie, one that's marketed as "Lazy Sunday Barbie" where she's dressed in sweats, long hair up, glasses on with zero makeup. I really applaud the recent movement in which artists and parents are taking BRATZ dolls and removing their makeup to recreate innocent, childlike faces. But those are separate from this. Hence their name, it's immediately apparent that these dolls are intended to be shitty, vapid characters only obsessed with overplayed looks and very little else. Perhaps I knew a different Barbie in my day, but my girl was nothing like that. Even if she appeared to only have two ribs and always sported purple eyeshadow, the fictional lady was a class act and incredibly kind.
Arguments over Barbie's lack of relatability aside, Mattel witnessed a steady decline of the doll's sales so they finally succumbed and appealed to the masses, changing Barbie's legend entirely. Perhaps it's time. I just think that occasionally, certain things are sacred and as depressing a realization as it is maybe their life span has run its course. If these were living, breathing people I'd be leading the pack in their beauty revolution, coaxing them to make a change, to strip away all that excess that binds them and encourage them to just "be themselves". But Barbie is Barbie and that's all she's ever been. Create an entirely new doll to accompany the already overpopulated market of toys. Another cousin of hers from a different part of the world, wholly different than the original. Change, while I often push for it, doesn't always stand for 'good'. Find a new doll to play with if you aren't a fan. There are tons. But leave Barbie be.
Edit - January 31, 2016: Due to the fact that I find it mostly impossible to write anything I'm passionate about in short-form and therefore in fear I'd already written far too much for one post, I left out a very important stance here. Mattel should absolutely 1000% create (they should have always done this from the beginning) Barbies as more diverse ethnicities. We should be seeing far more Black, Asian, Hispanic, Indian and Chinese Barbies available on shelves. However, my stance stays firm in that no matter her skin color or race, Barbie should remain as she was originally intended, to be a statuesque enigma and not more "realistic".