Fun fact: I used to sell my Barbie photographs online when I was 14. All black and white images, which you see in this post, date back to that time.
I was scrolling through my Facebook feed (something I do once in a blue moon these days) when I stumbled upon Cosmopolitan article mocking new "man bun" Ken dolls, which now come in all shapes and forms. Sure, reading those witty tweets, most likely written by older Gen X-ers, seemed funny at first. Call it a contest of "who will make most fun of millennials and their stupid dolls?". I honestly had no idea that guys my age were so knowledgable about kombucha and yoga, but oh well, speaking of stereotyping. I then hopped onto Mattel's website and, after spending a good half an hour looking at all these new Kens and Barbies, I felt kind of sad really. Was original Barbie that bad after all?
About a year ago, Mattel introduced a new generation of Barbie dolls. Suddenly "body positive" Barbie is on the cover of Time Magazine and she wasn't just a toy anymore; from now on Barbie is a revolutionary symbol of something more attainable, rightly proportioned and "humanly". Say hello to a tall, petite and even curvy Barbie. Although I am in my 20s, I couldn't resist temptation and decided to have a look. "Maybe I could get one to complete my [childhood] collection?", I thought to myself. Mattel promised that there would be a Barbie doll for every girl out there (no matter what physique, race or hair colour/texture). Which is amazing. But guess what? I spent hours and hours looking for my dollish doppelganger with little to no success. Truth is, I (correction: my looks) don't belong to any of the categories of newly diversified dolls. A more important message here: I never really cared about fitting in anyway.
And it is not because I am a young adult and don't play with dolls anymore. Back when I had my first Barbie, gorgeous blue-eyed blonde with voluminous hair and ballet slippers, I couldn't care less about her looks. Growing up in the late 90s - early 00s, none of my friends (Asian, Caucasian, Mixed - you name it) cared about what their beloved dolls looked like. It was more about her successful carreer, nice pair of shoes and charming Ken to go out on a date with. And if Ken misbehaved, there was always my brother's G.I.Joe to kick his ass. Although we all had computers at the time, we would still meet on a playground, showing off our Barbies' newest outfits, temporary blue and pink hair mascara (which I would borrow from my Barb too) and roller skates (roller skates were big). Even better if Ken had a pair too. Back when I was a kid, it was more important whether Barbie had bendable joints, rather than thicker or thinner hips. Well, because my Barbie had to succeed in her swimming career and, although she was fit and wore make-up, she did so for herself (and not for Ken).
My Barbies were my best friends. Short hair, long hair, brown hair, blonde hair, white skin, dark skin - I was happy with any kind, as long as it wasn't a cheap Mattel knockoff named Sindy (no offense if your real name is Sindy). Even when I had no one around to play with, Barbie had my back. When that mean girl at school told everyone in class that I "stole" her gel-ink pen, so that no one speaks to me ever again, Barbie knew that I was innocent and that girl was just a hater. And it didn't matter to me that my doll's hair wasn't black, or that her eyes weren't brown and almond-shaped just like mine. Yes, I admit I was a bit jealous that she had a nice D cup, but hey! I just had to wait a little. Point is - when I was a kid, I never viewed my Barbie as a "real" human. I always knew it was a doll, my i-doll: she was an achiever, with a nice character, golden retriever, supportive friends and loving Ken, who also had his shaving kit. So he would rock moustache one day or five o'clock shadow the other. Because there's nothing more masculine than a good old stubble, amirite? (No man bun or uptight Pinocchio shorts, thanks!)
Although modern society might think they won "the doll war" and now that there is a tall or voluptuous Barbie, we can finally live in peace - I can't help but think that original Barbie is being seriously mistreated here. Was it even about kids or envious, overthinking adults? If you ask me now, I never felt intimidated by my doll's look, moreover - I have one sitting on my desk right now and she brings back nothing but great memories of true, innocent childhood. Whereas most of today's Mattel dolls - well, they are all about "looks", aren't they? There is not even a single Barbie with a serious profession (except a spy, she's kinda cool). We have fashionistas, squad girls, one with clip in hair extensions and hoverboard, jobless Barb in a fancy pink convertible (we will not go into details on how she got one though..). And an absolute winner: Valentine Barbie. As we don't have enough of that BS.
Guess my point is, as much as it is great to have dolls in all shapes and forms, kids don't really care about superficial stuff that adults make seem so important. I had (still have) a bunch of Barbie dolls with "unattainable" body types and I became a perfectly normal young adult, with realistic body expectations and career aspirations (surprise-surprise). Do I like blonde guys with bushy brows and good facial hair? Yes, thank you Shave 'N Style Ken. But no, my life wasn't shattered by my favourite doll's tiny waist. If anything, my favourite Barbie had a career in design and now that my very own sketches were published in a fashion magazine for the first time, I can't help but give my doll a high five. We might not be THERE yet, but we're certainly on the right track. Thick or thin hips, with or without Ken, doesn't matter.