Monday, March 07, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: The Good, The Bad, and the Barbie

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on UsThe Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us Tanya Lee Stone

Barbie-- blank slate for girls to project their dreams onto or "the number #1 most destructive force on the self-image of women all over the globe?"*

Covering Barbie's creation, history, and the reactions to her (good and bad), Stone gives us a brief overview of this cultural icon (and no matter what your feelings are on her, she is a cultural icon.

Overall, Stone ends up in the pro-Barbie camp. She agrees with Ruth Handler (Barbie creator and founder of Mattel) that Barbie was a blank slate for girls to project their dreams and fantasies on. Barbie can be whatever you want her to be-- a princess, a racecar driver, a surgeon, or a mother, or all of the above.

She doesn't deny that some people don't like Barbie and she doesn't think that's wrong, just that Barbie in and of herself isn't inherently bad. But, she does see Barbie as one facet and a scapegoat of larger societal norms forcing unrealistic expectations of beauty onto girls. Getting rid of Barbie wouldn't get rid of airbrushing magazine covers...

Despite Stone's ultimate pro-Barbie take, she does give a lot of space and credit to those who disagree with Barbie and doesn't spend a lot of time negating their arguments.

There are also fun chapters on how kids warp Barbie when playing with her (popping off her head, running her over, dying her hair...)** and how modern artists use Barbie in their art. 

Overall it was a very fun book and a pretty quick read. Although it's marketed as an adult title, the length (130 pages) and layout (picture book size with so many pictures and pull-out boxes) would make it right at home with many tween and teen nonfiction titles. I think many teens would also enjoy reading it. Women of all ages, including several teens and tweens are quoted discussing their feelings on Barbie and her impact on them and their friends.

In fact, it turns out that this project started when Stone suggested to her editor that the next book she wrote for the tween/teen Up Close biography series would be about Barbie. Ultimately they decided that while Barbie did meet the series's criteria of being about an American icon that kids and teens are familiar with and has made a significant impact on American culture, she didn't quite fit in with the other people featured in the series. 

*So sayeth psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman, as quoted in this book

**Mine frequently got thrown off a cliff (the staircase banister) by My Little Pony, because Barbie was too big to be riding My Little Pony so My Little Pony would buck and AAAAAAAA! There went Barbie onto the rocks and swirling ocean below (aka, down the stairs and into the front hall.)

Today's Nonfiction Roundup is over at Picture Book of the Day!

Book Provided by... my local library

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1 comment:

Paige Y. said...

I read this book last week and really enjoyed it (even though I wasn't a fan of Barbie as a child). Just out of curiosity I asked my 8th graders how many of them had committed Barbie abuse, and I would say that a majority had. I'm planning to buy a copy for my middle school library and I think it will be popular.