I know the world is changing, and evidently, as I age, I’m less inclined to embrace that change. The other day I was struck by one of those changes that I’m not ready for. I was in Target with my two kids because my son had birthday money to spend. Thing #1 (who’s 10 and a boy) bee-lined for the Lego aisle. So I trailed along with Thing #2, my daughter who has a homing device set for the Barbie aisle.
Now, I’m not the most girly-girl you’ll ever meet and getting used to spending time in pink product aisles has been an adjustment. My daughter is pushing seven, and she enjoys anything pink, purple, sparkly, frilly, and not Star Wars (yes, we’ve checked the DNA and indeed, she is mine despite her lack of my tomboy gene!). So there we were standing in front of the Barbie dolls: The iconic American toy that just recently celebrated 53 years in circulation. And I realized that Barbie has ink.
I know Mattel’s been bombarded by criticism over the years for its portrayal of the perfect (plastic) feminine figure. You’ve probably read that if Barbie were a real-life woman her proportions would be around six feet tall and 100 pounds, size four, with bust/waist/hip measurements along the lines of 39”, 18”, 33”.
Outrageous, I know, but on the other hand, she is just a doll and our kids aren’t nearly as aware of her disproportionate proportions as we are. Really, Barbie’s never made that big a ripple in my adult life. But now I was with my little girl looking at these freakishly built blondes (mostly) with heavy makeup, skimpy clothes, and platform heels. They ranged in character from Disney princesses to Twilight’s Bella and Edward. And then my focus fell on a mermaid/surfer Barbie with … what? I squinted a little and no, my aging eyes did not deceive me… she had tattoos. On her midriff. Scroll-y, swirly pink tattoos that went from her waistline up to the base of her teeny bikini top.
Mattel calls it “body art” on the package. I call it a tattoo.
Now I’m not opposed to tattoos. I have one … or two. When I got mine 23 years ago, I still had to cover up for my post-college job interviews. It’s not like that anymore — which is great. Let’s be free to express ourselves. But tattoos on our little girls’ dolls? On top of the fact that Barbie is already built to impossible standards and that she often dresses suggestively, now Mattel has to add midriff tattoos? No, thanks.
An inked-up Barbie isn’t brand new. Mattel released its first tattooed doll last October — an alternative girl with pink hair and a pretty Goth look and ink across her arm and up her neck and chest. While there was outrage from some conservative and parent-type groups, Mattel claimed the Italian-designed Barbie was really meant for adult collectors. Okay, maybe. But the Barbie I was staring at in Target was most certainly not that. It was designed as a toy. Sandwiched right there in between Princess Tiana and the Barbie Puppy Water Park Playset.
I don’t want to get into how tattoos might be sexualizing Barbie. I’m not sure she can be much more sexualized than she is already with her miniscule waist and ginormous breasts. My criticism is that it just shows little girls what’s considered cool right now — cute pink tattoos on a nice slim body. It gives little girls without flat tummies something new to worry about, more body image issues. Thanks, Mattel. Those are truly not the messages we should be imparting to young girls and women who already struggle with the societal pressures around and definitions of beauty.
I know there’s an argument to be made that Barbie is just mirroring what kids are already seeing all around them. My kids see my tattoo. Why would it be so bad for them to see that Barbie has one? Well, for one, I don’t exactly set the standard around our house for what’s “cool!” I’m a 41-year-old mom and most definitely not awesome (in my kids’ opinion). In fact, I’m kind of hoping that it’s because of my tattoo that the kids don’t run out on their 18th birthdays and get inked.
This Barbie babe is working against me by riding along on her cute surfboard in her cute bikini with her cute tattoo. And that is not a cool message for my daughter. What could possibly be next? A tramp stamp, pierced nipples, and a cocktail?
Only for adult collectors, I’m sure.
Allison McDowell Enstrom is a freelance writer and full-time mom to two children. Before kids, she worked as a news producer and executive news producer at NorthWest Cable News, KING 5 News, and stations in Portland and the Tri-Cities.