“Barbie Fashionista” trivializes fashion, girls’ ambitions

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I know I’ve written about Barbie and her involvement in fashion before, when she (technically, Mattel) had her own fashion show during New York’s Fashion Week. But Mattel has recently released a video to promote their new “Barbie Fashionista” line that has caused me to bring up our favorite plastic friend once again.

If you’re a child of the ’90s and listened to any pop music during your childhood at all, you likely know Aqua’s famous — or infamous — song “Barbie Girl.” Though the song was catchy with its witty and easy-to-learn (and thus, easy to sing along to) lyrics, it perhaps did not cast the best light on Mattel and Barbie. Lines like “You can brush my hair/ Undress me everywhere” and “Come on Barbie, let’s go party,” especially with the latter voiced by the sexy-voiced supposed Ken, do not exactly leave Barbie with the innocent, girl-next-door persona that the doll began with.

And Mattel agreed. In fact, the company actually sued Aqua over the song in 1997; a Rolling Stone article states that Mattel claimed that the song “contains lyrics that ‘associate sexual and other unsavory themes with Mattel’s Barbie products.’”

Mattel, however, has since changed their tune (pun intended) and is embracing the song wholeheartedly by using it as the theme song of their commercial-slash-music-video for their new line, Barbie Fashionista. They have changed the lyrics, which now contain phrases like “I’ve got lots of friends, the party never ends” and begins with a conversation between, again, a sexy, low-voiced Ken doll and a high-pitched, squeal-y Barbie doll that concludes with some rather questionable pelvic thrusts from Ken.

And the video doesn’t feature only the plastic dolls themselves; instead, real-life versions of Barbie and Ken can be seen, with the former wearing tight shirts and skirts so short that I’m afraid that while they’re “doing the Barbie” dance during the video they’re going to flash all of the little girls that I’m sure are staring wide-eyed at the screen in their homes.

I have a number of problems with the Barbie Fashionista music video. The first is, of course, the message that the dancing and singing of the video is sending to the little girls who are assuredly watching and memorizing so that they, too, can “do the Barbie” next time the video comes on. When I played with Barbies — which I did quite often — I played with Veterinarian Barbie, Doctor Barbie, even Wheelchair Barbie. Barbies were created to show that girls could do whatever they wanted, that girls didn’t have to be homemakers or secretaries, that they could do more (though, as evidenced by the elaborate Barbie houses that you can buy, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home mom). The only message I can see in the new Barbie line is one that tells girls they can wear cute, slightly slutty clothes and dance with boys.

Fashion is a perfectly respectable profession, but the Barbie Fashionista line isn’t about working in fashion, whether as a designer, stylist, or fashion journalist. The line seems rather to be about being a socialite — wearing cute clothes, showing off, and being famous. I don’t really think this is something that little girls should aspire to be. There’s nothing wrong with being famous in fashion, if you work for it, but the line seems to be more about being famous and wearing the clothes rather than the hard work that goes into their creation, giving a bad name to real fashionistas everywhere, who do actually put effort into their work.

With Barbie’s new line coming out right after the doll had her own show at Fashion Week, Mattel should have focused more on the actual fashion aspect of the doll and her accessories rather than merely the looking good part. I think it would’ve been really interesting to see a Barbie whose accessories were fashion sketches, or a mannequin with different swatches of clothing that could be put on it. But by saying that a fashionista is nothing more than a girl who looks good in pretty clothes, Mattel is not only minimizing the actual amount of work that goes into the fashion industry, they’re also going against Barbie’s core value: the belief that girls can do anything. Instead of giving the Barbie Fashionista line some type of reality, they are instead saying that girls should strive to look pretty, dance provocatively, and go after the guy. This just seems to be reinforcing all the things that the original “Barbie Girl” song was mocking, and the things that Mattel sued Aqua over.

Mattel needs to reconsider what they are promoting when they decide to use a song like “Barbie Girl” to advertise their new product line. They may have changed the lyrics (though I don’t believe the new ones are much better), but that doesn’t mean that girls won’t wonder what the song is from and find it within seconds on YouTube. And even in the new version of the song, the real-life “Barbies” are not any more ideal role models for young girls than the plastic dolls described in Aqua’s version of the song. They should reconsider a shift back to the old Barbies — the ones that encouraged girls to be whatever they wanted to be.