Change of (plastic) heart

Sunday marks the 50th birthday party of one of North America’s most iconic women, but chances are a few people won’t make it onto the guest list.

On Tuesday, a West Virginia delegate introduced a bill to ban the sale of Barbie dolls in the state. According to the Charleston Daily Mail, the bill would make it illegal to sell dolls “that promote or influence girls to place an undue importance on physical beauty to the detriment of their intellectual and emotional development.”

This isn’t the first time Barbie has faced banishment. In 2002, police in Iran took her off the shelves because of her American sensibilities and oft-provocative wardrobe.

Barbie’s place in society has always been contentious, whether in Tehran or the U.S. She’s just a doll, but she’s also worth billions. If those billions promote unhealthy views of body image, sexuality or ethnicity, there’s cause for concern.

For many women in Barbie’s age bracket, though, nostalgia is the word as the birthday celebrations approach. My mother still bemoans the loss of her Barbie—the “classic” plastic fashionista, who wore a striped bathing suit, hoop earrings and an expression that could only say, “Oh really?”

Barbie and her unlikely curves introduced a novel form of role play to the child’s imagination in 1959, albeit a role eventually overshadowed by the love of shopping.

Now, the Mattel ethos is making a comeback: real-life “Barbies” recently hit the runway at Fashion Week in New York. On Sunday, the company will release Barbie with a facelift.

The economy might be suffering, but Barbie’s celebrating in style.

Along with the emphasis on white, blonde and anatomically impossible beauty, also problematic is the consumerist ideology Barbie champions. Her philosophy, posted on her blog, says it all: “A great handbag can save any outfit.” Still, with over 100 jobs on her CV—including three visits to the Olympics and a stint in the military—the 11-inch doll is ahead of me financially.

As I try to keep the final weeks of undergrad from slipping between my fingers—unlike Barbie, I have opposable thumbs—I can’t help but wish I had my own life philosophy and sure success coming my way.

Instead, I might be kicking back in a cardboard box next year. As far as I know, Mattel has never released Financially-Strapped-Grad-Student Barbie.

My Barbies, though, did live in a rather modest cardboard house, which often needed masking tape repairs. As the clan increased, some were relegated to shoebox condos.

Mattel clearly has marketing prowess: Recession Barbie, anyone? Now that Barbie has had a so-called realistic facelift, perhaps it’s time for her to put the credit card down.

The years I spent with Barbie weren’t detrimental to my development as an individual. Other, real-life role models can have greater effects on a girl’s development.

For me, Barbie represented a means of creative storytelling; she encouraged me to spend hours acting out the narrative of a happy, successful and independent woman.

Can’t such a woman like pink, plastic shoes—in moderation?

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