How do you fix a problem like Barbie?
She has been under fire for some time for being, in essence, a portable and inexpensive reminder of society’s unrealistic beauty standards that we give little girls to carry around with them at all times.
Which is nice, if that is what you are going for, but a bit disappointing if you are just trying to find a toy.
Now Mattel has hit on a solution: Give Barbie a plethora of bodies.
Barbie now transcends the physical plastic plane. She is no longer limited to a single form. She has become multitudes, splitting her soul into a myriad of horcruxes with equally impeccable hair and tiny portable accessories.
Now there’s a Curvy Barbie, a Petite Barbie and a Tall Barbie, all in a variety of skin tones and hair colors (so that we have four unreasonable standards to aspire to instead of just one) so that all kids will get a doll in whom they can see themselves, kind of.
My parents were not Barbie parents and let me buy toys regardless of which gender-coded aisle they came from, so my idea of the ideal body type is Darth Vader. (Is this not correct?)
Now I see the modifications they are making to Barbie to bring her closer to reality, giving her feet suitable for flats instead of nightmarishly tiny feet that serve no purpose, altering her shape and giving her a range of skin tones — but she is still hardly in hailing distance of reality. The body was the least of her problems.
The trouble with Barbie is that if you start taking away her unrealistic elements, she disappears altogether. Barbie is the kid in the Sideways Stories from Wayside School who turned out to be nothing but a dead rat beneath several layers of overcoat.
Barbie is either the iconic, unattainable figure, blonde and waiflike, with huge eyes, or she is — what, exactly? Make her real, and she ceases to exist. She becomes a brand, a category heading, like American Girl, Monster High, Bratz.
Not that that would necessarily be awful.
Did Barbie ever look like us? (Taylor Swift, do not answer this one.) Barbie has never looked like me. We are both blonde if you look at us in the right lighting, but that is where the resemblance stops. Barbie, you see, is put-together. She has glossy hair and knows how to accessorize. I, on the other hand, still don’t know what accessories are, other than things that a lot of people seem to use in committing murders.
Giving her curves won’t solve the fact that her hair, however tangled, is always impeccably glossy; that her outfits are color-coordinated and flawlessly accessorized; that even when she has spent the entire day fighting with a plastic dinosaur her makeup is still perfection. And she makes it look effortless!
The problem of seeing yourself in Barbie is not solved by resizing her. To fix that, she would need to arrive in a box that is just a big mess of laundry that she has not done, half of which has turned pink because she did not notice a lurking red sock in the white load until it was too late.
Some of it should be dry-clean only, which means that she can wear it once to a nice event, spill red wine on it, and then it will sit in her closet reproaching her for months.
As far as shoes go, they should be neatly divided into two categories: Shoes she can walk in, and shoes that look good with the outfit she is wearing.
She should be equipped with Spanx.
Instead of a face of impeccable makeup, she should have a single tube of mascara, which she can use to poke herself in the eye with once before going out so that she resembles a temporarily blind raccoon.
But the most important thing for Barbie realism is that she should be constantly subjected to criticism of her appearance. She should go on TV to talk about being a marine biologist or an astronaut, and all the comments afterward should be about what her hair was doing and why on earth she picked that top.
Come to think of it, we have that part down.
The one thing Barbie has absolutely nailed about the female appearance is that something must always be the matter with it. She was tiny and impossible and made of plastic for decades, and we still found fault with her.
This change won’t stop that. She is, as Time magazine points out, a body without a story, no matter what accessories you give her.
And when that’s your starting point, you’re stuck.
Alexandra Petri is a columnist for The Washington Post.