It’s not new news, the no thigh gap Barbie. Mattel released the doll last year. See Barbie makes doll with thighs that touch, from Teen Vogue. But it came to my attention recently when a friend’s daughter got one for Christmas and loves it. The photos in my newsfeed made me happy.
It might seem trivial to you but it does matter. Check out this, Study Shows Barbie Dolls Negatively Impact Young Girls’ Body Image. My own daughter was no big fan of Barbie so I had it easy as a parent. I didn’t have to agonize much at all about whether Barbies came through our front door.
When I taught a course on feminism and fashion this year I was shocked at how much my students had to say about Barbies. We read the paper “Fashion Dolls and Feminism: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Barbie?” by Louise Collins. It’s in a collection called Fashion – Philosophy for Everyone: Thinking with Style.
We talked about Barbie play as a kind of risky pleasure. I like the idea of “risky pleasures.” Such pleasures are acts individual women and girls participate in that in some way also contribute to our oppression.
We talked about dressing up and playing roles but also about internalized body policing. We talked about this quote from Sandra Bartky:
“Under the current ‘tyranny of slenderness’ women are forbidden to become large or massive; they must take up as little space as possible. The very contours of a woman’s body takes on as she matures – the fuller breasts and rounded hips – have become distateful. The body by which a woman feels herself judged and which by rigorous discipline she must try to assume is the body of early adolescence, slight and unformed, a body lacking flesh or substance, a body in whose very contours the image of immaturity has been inscribed. The requirement that a woman maintain a smooth and hairless skin carries further the theme of inexperience, for an infantilized face must accompany her infantilized body, a face that never ages or furrows its brow in thought. The face of the ideally feminine woman must never display the marks of character, wisdom, and experience that we so admire in men.”
According to Collins, the disciplinary practices of normative femininity are also a source of pleasure and identity and provide the woman who is good at it with a sense of mastery.
Women and girls aren’t idiots. We aren’t dupes of the patriarchy. We have agency. The problem with “risky pleasures” is right there in the name. Yes, things like Barbie play (but also wearing make up, dressing up as adults) come with costs. But they’re also a source of enjoyment in the lives of girls and women. I get it. I really do. You can see my last blog post in which I’m wearing heels and a sparkly dress as proof.
So yes, there’s pleasure, empowerment, and freedom in Barbie-play but at a cost, hence the “risky” part of “risky pleasures.”
We talked about the possibility of making Barbie-play less risky and about how we might minimize the risks to young girls. To a one the students argued for more body diversity of all sorts in Barbie-land. So here’s to no thigh gap Barbie. Thanks Ashley Graham!
Past posts on the thigh gap: