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Essay: Barbie's Legs

by Roger Tredre on 20 July 2010

Central Saint Martins' Roger Tredre muses about Barbie's influence on young minds and bodies.

Central Saint Martins' Roger Tredre muses about Barbie's influence on young minds and bodies.

My five-year-old daughter wants a Barbie. I don’t want to buy her one, I just don’t want to go down that route. Last month I kind of relented and bought her a copycat Barbie on a trip to China – the doll’s inadequacy was quickly exposed, limbs swiftly dismembered, the legs abandoned, like some grotesque Chapman Brothers artwork. No, she wants the real Barbie, quality plastic. Legs that swivel and stretch forever, skin wondrously blemish-free, a have-a-nice-day smile, and - oh glory of glories! - hair that brushes golden soft all week long. 

Will Barbie lead my five-year-old Olivia down a path to body victimhood? Will my dear daughter soon want a Barbie body - those long Barbie legs?

Do I buy her a Barbie? Parenthood turns all those theoretical dilemmas of adulthood that we can opt to push to one side into real, pressing dilemmas that demand definitive answers. Will Barbie lead my five-year-old Olivia down a path to body victimhood, as outlined in Natasha Walter's sharply written Living Dolls: the Return of Sexism? Will my dear daughter soon want a Barbie body - those long Barbie legs? In China, where her mother comes from, young women pay small fortunes to have their legs broken and stretched on a rack to achieve maximum height. All in the belief that they will find a 'better' husband. 

Let’s think this through further. Is Barbie only the tip of an iceberg of fashion issues that will fuck up my daughter? Perhaps I should be bolder. Never tell her I work in fashion. Leave the other fashion editors to dress up their daughters for Sunday morning parade at London Fashion Week. Guiltily hide from her the latest issue of Vogue, as if concealing a porn mag. Ban fashion folk and fashion talk from round the family dinner table. 

No, no, no to all these. Get a grip on yourself, man. This is the world. My daughter has to live in it. Fashion's influence on our body image can be enriching and life-affirming. Barbie (and fashion) can corrupt, but so can anything. 

So I'm buying her a Barbie - and hoping for the best.

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