Why I don't care about a bald Barbie

In case you've missed it, there has been a huge social media push for Mattel to produce a bald Barbie doll. [bald Barbie makes the news]

The supporters of this movement believe that the bald doll should be created in order to support children who have lost their hair to illness or cancer treatment. And to also help children to ease their fears and concerns when someone they love loses their hair due to cancer treatment. I think the intention is noble. I really do. But bear with me as I try to explain why I am torn on the issue.

I am an African-American woman. I am also a breast cancer survivor who lost her hair during chemotherapy to treat stage 3 breast cancer a few years ago. I wear my hair very short (nearly bald actually) and that is for two reasons. One, it looks good on me. And two, I have no patience to sit in a hair salon for hours every week to be styled and I don't have the money to support such a habit. Be clear, hair is a big damned deal for black women. A really, REALLY big deal. Ask Chris Rock about it. He produced a stunningly interesting documentary about some of the issues surrounding black women and their hair a few years ago. If you haven't seen "Good Hair" please do check it out. [Wikipedia link on Good Hair]  I promise you that you will be stunned and amazed at the efforts that black women put forth in order to keep their hair perfectly coiffed. And the amount of money. Sisters will go into debt over their hair. Seriously.
(this is Nicole boobies-blogger)
The fact that black women spend 9 BILLION dollars on their hair should tell you just how deep the hair issue is for us. It is not a game. Hair matters.

And I know that hair matters for women of all ethnicities. In many cultures, a woman's hair is her crowning glory. Without hair some women feel like they are not a woman.

So, a bald Barbie doll for a girl like me, makes my heart swell with pride and crack with pain at the same time. Having the "right" hair not only affects how you look at yourself, but your job prospects, your love interests and how other people judge you. I don't want to seem dismissive of how much it can affect a child to lose her hair. It brings grown women to their knees. Believe me, I get it.

I understand that losing your hair can be so heart-breaking that you lose your sense of yourself and your beauty. Barbie dolls have fans in every age group -- from kids to grandmothers -- and we love Barbie because she is a stylized icon of American beauty. But that is where I am challenged about a bald Barbie.

Barbie is a concept of beauty based on European standards. Her features are distinctly white and "non-ethnic". In all honestly, that's fine. That is who Barbie is and we love her for that kind of beauty. Today, Barbie has ethnic friends (dolls  created to reflect different races) However, Barbie's friends look like Barbie with a tan and a different hairstyle (still pretty European looking). That image of what defines beauty challenges me. A bald Barbie is still Barbie. A gorgeous and flawless face, with flawless skin and unrealistic body proportions. Taking off her hair still presents a little girl with very unrealistic standards of beauty.

Barbie, bald or otherwise, is still a reflection of a standard of beauty that is far more fantasy than reality. That comforts me (because that is who Barbie has been all of my life) and it challenges me (because I will never, ever look like Barbie). So a bald Barbie will be hairless and still represent unattainable "perfection". Does this help or harm a sick child who is even farther away from perfection than her healthy friends?

There is no perfection in cancer. Every scar, every surgery, every medicine, every treatment... changes who we are down to a cellular level. Removing Barbie's hair will NOT reflect those changes and challenges. It isn't possible to do so.

Will bald Barbie have scars? Will she come with props that include a hospital gown or an IV drip? Will a hospital bed become an option to purchase? The Barbie accessories are as important as the doll, as far as the experience goes. Will there be miniature MRI machines or radiation machines? Will Ken show up dressed in scrubs and present as Ken, doctor of oncology? I mean... all of those things are also a part of the experience of being a sick person who loses their hair because of cancer.

And since many of the purchasers and collectors of Barbie dolls are adults... can we get a Mastectomy Barbie too? A Barbie with tits that screw off perhaps? A Barbie who has the option to wear a prosthesis or sport her flat chest. Can she come with the requisite scars (maybe stickers would suffice so you could place them just so) and IV drips and hospital gowns? Is there a way that we can dial down her weight... to reflect the effects of the chemo? Or dial it up... to reflect the effects of other drugs and steroids?

See... just cutting off her hair sort of minimizes the entire journey. And while normally I'm all about taking whatever baby steps towards awareness that people can swallow... this is one that makes me very uncomfortable.

When I was in chemo in 2008, I came across a pamphlet advertising a doll for children of cancer patients. It was a soft doll (like a rag doll) and she had removable yarn hair. I believe that she was custom ordered so that her skin tone and her hair color matched the patient she was supposed to identify with. But since she was a cloth doll, she didn't have the exaggerated sexiness and cartoonishly perfect body that Barbie has. She was just a little rag doll with yarn hair and a scarf -- you could tie her head up with or without her hair. And she was totally adorable. In all honestly, I thought it was a fantastic idea and I felt that the dolls would probably make a lot of little girls really happy.

But Barbie? I'm not getting the same fuzzy feelings. I love Barbie. I spent lots of hours learning to play with hair and makeup on my Barbie makeup head. I was a girly girl who always wanted the newest Barbie accessories every Christmas. I must have had two or three Barbie houses, Barbie pools, Barbie cars and tons of those little stiletto shoes (that always managed to get lost). So, please don't take this long post as a bash on Barbie. She was a huge part of my childhood. I think of her fondly and I do still love her. However, I don't know about bald Barbie really helping the way that people are believing that it will.

Those are my thoughts. What are some of yours? Should Mattel go forward with creating a bald Barbie?

5 comments :

  1. As long as they gave a hefty portion of the sales to cancer research I may not have a problem....but they would have to get rid of her long eyelashes and eyebrows

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great article. You inspired me today! Thank you!
    Robyn Michele Levy
    http://robynlevygallery.wordpress.com/2012/01/28/bald-barbie-the-debate-continues/

    ReplyDelete
  3. So true Susan. No eyebrows or lashes at all... I do hope that if they decide to do it, they donate the sales to a good cancer organization. 

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