Amy Goldman Koss: My plastic, fantastic Barbie

July 28, 2013 

Every few years, as she is reviled by yet another crop of new parents casting about for a scapegoat for their daughters' troubling body issues, I feel called on to defend my childhood pal Barbie.

"I know," they say, "let's blame the 7-inch-tall plastic girl!" As if she is any more responsible for the way she looks than humans are.

Of one thing I am certain: It is the parents, not the kids, who take Barbie so harshly to task. The children know that no matter what she looks like, Barbie is a great friend, always game, and utterly trustworthy with secrets. Go ahead, strip her naked, tie her to mom's hairbrush and cast her into the waves to swim with sharks. She'll come up smiling and never breathe a word to anyone about your sordid plots and evil fantasies.

But many adults don't see the loyal friend. They are blinded by her oversized chest and undersized waist. And they hate her for them. That's bullying, isn't it? Judging her solely on her looks? Condemning her for her deformities?

And, with regard to that chest and waist: Kids don't care about Barbie's proportions; they just appreciate that she's older than they are and can therefore take greater risks and have wilder adventures. They don't aspire to grow up to look like her any more than they aspire to look like their plush unicorns or troll dolls.

The current round of Barbie-bashing began after artist Nickolay Lamm reimagined Barbie shaped like an "average" girl, meaning shorter, thicker, more boring.

Photos of that doll standing next to Barbie were smeared across Facebook, accompanied by the expected anti-Barbie vitriol.

People I'd previously thought of as compassionate and fair were suddenly weighing in with unbridled Barbie barb. Some stated proudly that they'd always hated her. Others quoted poisonous statistics about the impossibility of survival for someone shaped like her; her inability to walk on those feet created for high heels, the lack of room in her abdomen for internal organs, the extra vertebra it would require to create her peculiar neck, and the difficulty that neck would have supporting her head.

And now, the anti-Barbie crowd is crowing over her reduced circumstances, rejoicing over news of her plunging sales.

But who among us has not had a bad year or three? Or felt the pinch of these crappy economic times?

This is not the first downturn in Barbie's 54-year career, and I'm willing to bet that just as she did decades ago while strapped to her hairbrush raft, Barbie will bob to the surface, cheerfully unscathed and harboring no ill will toward anyone.

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Amy Goldman Koss, a novelist and author of "The Not-So-Great Depression"; www.latimes.com

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