Thursday, August 27, 2009

What's Wrong with Barbie? Celebrating Privilege, part I



OK, NoseCandy (who has one of the awesomest usernames ever). Here we go.

I think I understand the angry, defensive, sarcastic place where the Barbie comment came from. But I also think it's the kind of comment one should apologize for and retract upon further consideration (and self-censor in the future). This is true for anyone, but especially for someone who hopes to be an effective advocate for improving body image. The comment in question, "I am a barbie and proud of it," carries a lot of cultural baggage, along with an endorsement of certain cultural values. And this is what I find problematic.

Central to the task of helping all different shapes and sizes of women achieve better body image is a need to question and reject the value our culture places on incredibly thin, tall, white, able-bodied women with Caucasian features and blond hair. So affirming that image by clearly aspiring to it and valuing it above other body types is counterproductive, to say the least. In fact, I think that advocating for better body image and cultural changes that allow us to value women of all shapes and sizes requires a flat-out rejection of the Barbie ideal. A consistent and vocal rejection of it, no less.

Beyond the Barbie image is the constellation of things Barbie (and similar icons) represents. Barbie is a symbol of privilege. In our culture, the more you look like Barbie, the more you're valued, and the more shit you're entitled to. And that might seem like a good thing. Being white and able-bodied and thin and cisgendered and tall and male and heterosexual are all traits that bring unearned advantages in our culture. So being lucky enough to have some of these traits may seem like something to celebrate.

But the flip side of privilege is oppression. If being white gets you all kinds of unearned benefits, that makes it that much harder to earn these things if you're not white. If being thin gets you all kinds of unearned benefits, that makes it that much harder to earn these things if you're not thin. And it seems fairly self-evident that being compassionate and progressive requires that, at the very least, we not celebrate good things that happen to us that ride on the oppression of others. In fact, I think it requires that we acknowledge the oppression and hardships of others that our good fortune rides on, and work to change the system that allocates goods and opportunities and respect in this unjust way.

I'm still trying to come up with a good example that will clarify this for those who are still struggling with the concept. But I've got work to finish and a toddler to pick up. More on this topic later...

8 comments:

  1. But the flip side of privilege is oppression. If being white gets you all kinds of unearned benefits, that makes it that much harder to earn these things if you're not white.

    So. Right.

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  2. NoseCandy8/28/2009

    Thanks! This is great.

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  3. Thank you for continuing to deconstruct this topic. Every time I read about it, it makes me sick, and reminds me just how ignorant Heather, aka mamaV, really is. She really doesn't have a clue as to just how oppressive her Barbie reference is.

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  4. CharlieHorse8/28/2009

    I'm totally using this in my class presentation next week. Only I don't know how to correctly cite a blog post. Anybody done this before?

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  5. Anonymous8/28/2009

    youd be a hotty if you didnt run your mouth off all the time its too bad those hotass cheekbones are wasted on such a mouthy bitch

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  6. voiceofreason8/28/2009

    I do believe our friend tom brokaw is here. *waves* Hi Tommy!

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  7. Stephanie8/29/2009

    Love the post, amused by the trolls.

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  8. Anonymous1/24/2012

    Barbie is fun. Stop bitching. It's just a doll. There are more important issues you could be talking writing about.

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