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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ladies: you don't have to be 'tragically alone'

You can talk about how the economy sucks, but don’t bother trying to tell it to the nation’s number one toy company.

Profits were up 39 percent at Mattel in 2009 over 2008 to a staggering $528.7 million, in part because of a 12 percent increase in sales of Barbie dolls. It was the first increase in Barbie sales in two years.

Which may not seem all that important in the greater scheme of things, but bear with me because I see a trend developing – or rather re-developing – and it has to do with the eternal battle of the sexes.

You have to admit that it’s surprising that a seeming anachronism like the Barbie doll could enjoy a resurgence in these enlightened times we live in. Barbie was invented way back in 1959 by Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel, and named after her daughter Barbara.

Handler watched her daughter playing more with adult dolls than baby dolls and created Barbie to help her imagine what being grown up was like – making the new doll lifelike enough to serve as an inspiration.

And some of the Barbie’s have, indeed, been role models. In 1965 – the year before women were accepted into the space program – you could dress Barbie as Miss Astronaut. In 1968, she got a new friend named Christie, who was – gasp! – black. And over the years, Barbie has been an Olympic skier, gymnast and skater – not to mention a surgical nurse and a doctor. In fact, Barbie has had more than 80 careers – everything from a rock star to a paleontologist to a presidential candidate.

But those of you who were there will remember that the very first Barbie back in 1959 was dressed in a zebra bathing suit. And it didn’t take some math geek long to figure out that if Barbie were a real person, she would stand six feet tall, weigh just 100 pounds, and wear a size 4. Even more shocking, her measurements would be 39-19-33, and she would probably have had to have back surgery from being so top heavy. Sounds like a job for Dr. Barbie and Barbie Surgical Nurse.

Consider that the average woman is 5' 4", weighs 145 pounds, and wears a size 11-14. Her measurements are approximately 36-30-41.

There’s also a good chance that average woman is on a diet right now, and there’s at least a fairly good chance that she’s on a diet because she is trying to live up to the unrealistic perfect body stereotype created by models and actresses and – yes – Barbie dolls.
And so Barbie gradually became politically incorrect and sales dropped – until this year, the very year that a new book by Lori Gottlieb was published called “Marry Him: The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough (Dutton, $25.95).
In the book, Gottlieb advocates that women stop looking for Mr. Right and instead “find a guy to get real with” – even if he has bad breath, belches, or “talks rough.”

“Women who dare to dream of love don’t find it and wind up tragically alone,” Gottlieb writes.

So what does “Marry Him” have to do with the resurgence of Barbie doll sales? Consider this: the Barbie doll perfect woman is demeaning to women, and the “Marry Him” imperfect man is demeaning to men.

In the Feb. 1 issue of Newsweek magazine, columnist Julia Baird writes, “How insulting for men: imagine going to a boyfriend’s house and seeing ‘Marry Her: The Case for Settling for Ms. Good Enough’ on his shelves.”

She further notes that “Marry Him” doesn’t do a lot for the image of modern woman:

“If you will only date someone who looks like Brad Pitt, ‘earns a gazillion dollars and makes your knees go weak every time you’re together,’ as Gottlieb writes, then you’re probably either 20 or stupid.”

So it looks to me like civilization has taken a major step backward in 2010 – back to the dark, dreary days when sexism reigned supreme. It may be the biggest setback since Barbie got bendable legs in 1965, which made it possible for her to scrub floors. Or at least since 1994, when Teen Talk Barbie would say, "Math is hard!" over and over.

But there may be a silver lining. Barbie and Ken broke up in 2004, we can fairly assume because he couldn’t live up to Barbie’s impossibly high standards.

If Mattel comes out with a new Barbie that comes complete with a miniature copy of “Marry Him” in her hands, maybe she’ll take Ken back – even if his hair is painted on.

After all, we wouldn’t want Barbie to end up “tragically alone.” And besides, a comeback for a belching, rough talking Ken doll with scratch and sniff bad breath wouldn’t be bad for Mattel’s sales.

The only thing I regret is that The Consort and I met in the days before “Marry Him.” Which means she had a list of characteristics and traits her perfect man would have.

It wasn’t easy, but I managed to fool her into thinking I measured up in all the categories but two – “likes to dance” and “likes to cook.”

These days it’s so much easier for guys. Demeaning, but easier. Belch!

1 comment:

Phanie said...

So, I wonder if "rough talking" is another way of saying "abusive". Perhaps it means, "lacks a developed vocabulary" or "grunts like an ape". Personally, I held out, and have managed to find my "one". Thank goodness I didn't read that wretched book first, not that I would have listened. Barbie, Shmarbie, we still have the magazine racks at the check out line in every store to tell us how ugly we are. And television in general. And billboards.....we cannot escape it.