Monday, September 27, 2010

Guest post: "Barbie vs. Ruby"

Today's guest post is written by Maria Rainier, a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching areas of online colleges. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

It’s no news that patriarchal social cues and media have manufactured the current physical feminine ideal. The theory of where the ideal comes from, however, is up for grabs. While Consuming Passions was published in the ‘80s, author Judith Williamson’s theory is hardly common knowledge, most likely because it’s threatening. She deduces that, contrary to the ideal posed by Mattel and Barbie, “the desirable shape for a woman . . . is that of a boy.”

While one may doubt such an unlikely conclusion in a society that has produced such a homophobic atmosphere as that of the U.S. military where “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” still reigns, Williamson is convincing: “The fashion images that we inevitably compare ourselves with (to be found lacking!) are of figures that resemble not so much women, as boys ... lean, tall, flat-tummied boys -- leggy, tight-bummed, curve-less. Endless boyish models with tousled hair, long thin legs and no hips pout at us from every magazine, their armpits and so-called bikini areas immaculately hairless, a total denial of adult women’s sexual qualities.”

Fashion designers continuously design clothes to eliminate female body characteristics inherently different from those of men. For example, women inevitably have what we call “tummies,” and no wonder, as women possess an entire organ men do not: the womb. Subcutaneous fat sits mostly on a woman’s wider hips and breasts as opposed to men, who have less of this fat, but also have a fundamentally unfeminine appendage: a penis. Williamson reminds readers that a female comic rarely dresses as a man and “[stuffs] a sock in her trousers and [waggles] it at a crowded studio to roars of laughter,” while men who dress in drag and don “big tits, fat tummies, wobbly hips and elaborate hair-dos” meet great approval. “The man in each case isn’t being undermined: female characteristics, and by implication women, are.”

This unequal treatment of male and female physical attributes indicates that “as long as women are less powerful than men and treated as inferior, the characteristics of maleness will probably be valued more highly, and taken more seriously than those of femaleness.”

Barbie: Made By Men, For Women
Thus, many men laugh at femaleness to soothe their fear of women and prescribe manufactured ideals for women to mimic in order to maintain their higher position in the socio-political hierarchy. Buxom Barbie, boyish department store mannequins, and even the manufacturers of breast implants (which predominantly male-run manufacturing companies model after the unrealistic, round ideal) manifest Williamson’s theory of the socio-political struggle between the sexes. The following table from the article “Statistics” on the ANRED (or Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc.) website compares the physical measurements of average American women to Barbie Doll and department store mannequins:

Average womanBarbieStore mannequin
Height5' 4"6' 0"6' 0"
Weight145 lbs.101 lbsNot available
Dress size11 -1446
Bust36 - 37"39"34"
Waist29 - 31"19"23"

Fig. 1 “Statistics: How many people have eating disorders?” ANRED. 2005. 1 July 2008 .

One assumes that manufacturers create children’s dolls so they may pretend that the said dolls are real people, and storeowners arrange store mannequins to reflect how an outfit would look on a real person. Clearly, if Barbie’s waist measures ten inches smaller than the average woman’s and a mannequin’s dress size averages at 6 while the rest of America wears something between an 11 and 14, these models are the stuff of fantasy-fiction, not real life. 

Ruby: the Real Deal

The Body Shop made a statement in September of 2007 by filling its windows and shelves with posters, magnets, and post cards of Ruby, as in “Rubenesque,” an anti-Barbie Doll whose voluptuous body graced Europe and Australia a year earlier. Despite positive feedback from passersby like Aly Daly, 28—“‘It’s real, truthful, and honest. The reality is, we don’t all look like Barbie’”—Barbie manufacturer Mattel sent The Body Shop a cease and desist order after several complaints, including one from a mall patron who spoke for his daughter who had allegedly been “traumatized” by Ruby’s pear-shaped figure.

Despite the un-lewd nature of Ruby’s nudity and her more realistic body type, patriarchal tendencies squashed raw femininity in favor of plastic idealizations, leaving children with Barbie and G.I. Joe for role models.

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