Of Barbies, Bratz and Bimbos

We can do better than feed a continuous diet of dolls that celebrate eating disorders to our kids, and then wonder why they are expressing a desire to diet as early as third grade.
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I don't know about you, but I am done with the celebration of Barbie's 50th birthday. To be honest, I wasn't that wild about her 5th birthday in 1964. That was the year my mother dutifully handed me this micro-waisted, ample-busted, curvy doll with a blonde bob, and feet that only could have been produced by centuries of foot binding.

As a little girl who grew up largely swinging from trees on Vancouver Island, I did not know what to make of this creature.

We know from the recent coverage of the big 50th anniversary, Barbie was modeled largely on an East German prostitute. Well, let's be fair. Barbie was actually modeled on an East German doll named Lilli, who was based on a trashy, wise-cracking, sex-talking glam cartoon character named Lilli (that appeared during the 1950s in the Hamburg tabloid of Bild-Zeitung). The cartoon character was based on the prostitute. A Mattel executive traveling in Europe at the time brought a few Lilli dolls home, and by 1959 she morphed into Barbie and a multi-billion dollar brand. The Lilli doll was widely regarded as a novelty sex gag babe long before an actual child ever claimed her as a toy.

I suppose we should be grateful that at least with Barbie, you have to dig for the hooker angle. Not so with the Bratz doll. That designer didn't waste a moment. He went straight for the red light district. (And apparently he did so right under the nose of all the Barbie people at Mattel where he was employed. In fact, Mattel recently won a suit in which they convinced the court that the Bratz design was a work-for-hire created on Mattel equipment and time, and therefore owned by Mattel.)

When I was a child, we girls intuitively understood that Barbie would never walk, let alone stand up. Those tiny feet would hardly support a hobbit let alone Barbie herself. But the Bratz design and dimensions took design through the guise of male sexual fantasies to a whole new level. A Bratz doll using human proportions would have a waist 23 inches, a bust of 42 inches and her head (not including makeup) would weigh approximately 100 pounds. Whereas Barbie could not stand up, the Bratz doll would not even be able to lift her head off the brothel cot. Perhaps that was the point.

So why do I care? I have a ten year old daughter. And so I am frustrated and fed up. Why is it that at this late stage of our human evolution that dolls and media images are rife with the most extreme sexual characteristics. This stretches way back, but seems to be getting worse. It does not seem to matter whether we are talking about the parade of early Disney Princesses or more recent entrants like Mulan or Pocahontas. Even the very recent Kim Possible, Spy Girls and the single female transformer have the same shape. There is not a wasted calorie between them.

And even the wonderful, healthy and fun latina character, Dora the Explorer, is joining the reverse march. Bending to Disney, those smart Noggin people have succumbed to refashioning Dora as a thinner, longer-haired, hipper urban tween. This is a blow for girl's and children's culture alike.

Like all parents, I am stretched and tired and, at times, a bad choice roll over me borne of chaos and exhaustion. But we can do better for our children. We can do better than feed a continuous diet of dolls that celebrate eating disorders to our kids, and then wonder why they are expressing a desire to diet as early as third grade. And don't misread me. I feel just as protective of my ten year old son. He is presented with: 1) a massively muscular, steroid-ridden, tough and rugged action figure, or, 2) a massively muscular, steroid ridden tough and rugged war figure as key options for his choice of toys.

We can and must do better for our kids. But Tackling this family by family, kid by kid is a lost cause. It is simply impossible to compete with the media Super Parent that enters every orifice of our homes and the lives of our children 24/7. But if we put our heads and hearts together we can do this. Together we can expand children's media and toys beyond princess pink and warrior green. That is why I am joining with other parents on May 19, 2009 to launch, a new community of parents, educators and experts, all dedicated to breaking through the stereotypes that limit and harm our children. Watch for us and write me at Let Every Child Shine.

Elizabeth Birch is President of ( & CEO of Birch and Company (