Barbie brings plastic perfection to fashion

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

“I’m a Barbie girl/In a Barbie world/Life in plastic/It’s fantastic.”

So begin the lyrics to the infamous “Barbie Girl” song, made famous by Aqua and sung loudly by middle school girls everywhere. And this coming February, the world is about to get even more Barbie, in the form of a Barbie fashion show in New York Fashion Week to celebrate the doll’s 50th birthday.

In some ways, nothing makes more sense than Barbie having her own fashion show. After all, who is better suited to showcase fashion than a doll designed to do just that? I’ll admit to being one of the girls who had more Barbie dolls and accessories than I knew what to do with, and the fun of playing with the dolls wasn’t giving them names and stories and histories — it was deciding what they should wear. I owned more clothes for my Barbies than I could ever dream of owning myself, and would spend hours putting together outfits for our dolls with my sister and arguing over who got what skirt or shirt. And words cannot even describe how badly I wanted to own some of Barbie’s clothes for myself; the clothes that she had defined cool, and I badly wanted to be as stylish as her.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), one of the sponsors of New York Fashion Week, and many big-name designers apparently agree. As Diane von Furstenberg, designer and CFDA president, said in a statement, “Barbie represents a confident and independent woman with an amazing ability to have fun while remaining glamorous.” The clothes for the fashion show will be Barbie-inspired and created by 50 different designers. Christian Louboutin will also be creating a pair of heels in Barbie pink to be worn with every outfit. This fashion show, basically, is any little girl’s dream — gorgeous clothes from famous designers, hot pink heels, and Barbie — what more could a girl ask for?

In terms of fashion and clothes, I think it’s more than appropriate that Barbie gets her own fashion show. What I think the CFDA is forgetting, however, or choosing to overlook, is that the name Barbie conjures more than just images of style and sophistication. Barbie also brings to mind an unattainable figure that most guys lust after and most girls would die for. Barbie is more than just great clothes and shoes — she’s the image of perfection, perfect body included. And the fashion industry is already more than criticized (and rightly so) for promoting less-than-healthy bodies as the ideal. With the number of high-fashion models admitting that they have an eating disorder growing rapidly, perhaps promoting Barbie, a picture of plastic perfection with her figure, is not the best idea.

It seems a bit of an oxymoron to have, on one hand, models strutting down the runway in Barbie-inspired couture, and on the other hand, a CFDA sponsored health booth in Bryant Park, where representatives from the Renfrew Center, an eating disorder treatment facility, will be present to answer any questions. This year will also be the second anniversary of the CFDA’s health initiatives, a set of guidelines and recommendations designed to promote a healthier Fashion Week and fashion industry in general (although the CFDA is clear to point out that these initiatives are not about policing the suggestions at all, but rather just awareness and education about unhealthy behavior). So while the CFDA is working to create a healthier image for the fashion industry, they are also giving a whole runway show to a plastic, perfect doll.

And Mattel isn’t planning on stopping Barbie’s new fashion career after her fashion show, either. In addition to partnering with the CFDA for future New York Fashion Weeks, the company has plans to debut a line of skincare products called “Plastic Smooth.” If wanting Barbie’s figure and clothes wasn’t enough, now you can also try to get her oh-so-aptly named smooth (plastic) skin, furthering her image of perfection to girls everywhere.

It’s one thing to play with Barbie as a little girl, but it’s a completely different thing to want to be Barbie, especially when the products with her name on it are geared toward a much older audience. At a time when many women are already comparing themselves to models seen in magazines and going to extreme lengths — plastic surgery, eating disorders — to try to obtain this level of perfection, Mattel is only going to make women more self-critical as they push Barbie’s image on women with already low self-esteem.

I don’t fault Mattel and the CFDA for bringing Barbie to the runway; the doll has had so many other careers (and, of course, outfits to go with each and every one of them) that Barbie was bound to vogue down the runway sooner or later. What I do hope, though, is that the models who wear the Barbie-inspired outfits stay true to the description of Barbie that von Furstenberg used — “a confident and independent woman.” Hopefully, this won’t mean stick-thin girls making their way down the runway in their Barbie pink heels, but rather models who are confident and independent and have the right body image to portray Barbie as the confident, fashion-forward woman the fashion industry sees her as.