Monday, 9 March 2009

Happy Birthday Barbie!

Seeing as you are unlikely to see a picture of Barbie as she would really look at 50, I thought I would paste one here for you to look at. I think she looks great. Let yourself grow old gracefully Barbie!
On the way to school this morning there was a discussion on the radio about Barbie. Did you know that if she were a real person she would be 5' 9" tall, weigh 110 pounds (this is 7 and a half stone - a BMI of 16.24 which would fit the criteria for anorexia) have a 39 inch bust, 18 inch waist and 33 inch hips? It's a fact that she would actually fall over due to her inability to support herself. This led me to some serious consideration of available role models for young girls to aspire to.

Girls in the age group spanning 9-13 (which incidentally is the target audience for my forthcoming novel "Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket", but we'll get to that in a minute..) are searching for the self they will one day become. Role models are there to help them establish which values and which lifestyle they will eventually have as part of their own identity. Writers and toy manufacturers have a tremendous amount of influence on young people and therefore a moral obligation to get it right. I had a think and here are a few female characters I think hit the spot -

Dora the Explorer - She's smart, speaks two languages, goes on adventures and gets herself out of scrapes. She's kind to animals and her family. She wears shorts and a t-shirt and isn't constantly twirling her hair. Love her.
Wendy from Bob the Builder - Persistently billed as Bob's 'business partner' just so we don't get the wrong idea. Wendy is a capable, hard-working woman who knows how to use her tool kit and make stuff.
Princess Fiona from Shrek - A princess who isn't conventionally pretty - she's a green ogre by the end of Shrek I - and a girl who can not only rescue herself but the prince too. A feminist icon?

Lisa Simpson - The brainiest child in a family of five, Lisa is fairly well rounded as far as cartoon characters go. She is an idealist who loves science and the saxophone and has an eccentric, if lovable family to contend with. She is an excellent role model for young women because she isn't ever afraid to blaze her own path, and she does it all without ever pulling down her shorts.

As a young girl I was constantly on the lookout for female characters I could relate to. I'm afraid to say that in the 1970's and 80's we didn't quite have the same range of positive role models as we do nowadays. I hated all those weedy princesses, who were quite frankly pathetic - sitting around all day brushing their hair and waiting for their handsome prince to rescue them - ha! how delusional were they?
It seemed curious to me that a lot of the fictional girls I thought were worthwhile had boy's names - Jo in Little Women and George in the Famous Five. Nancy Drew was the only girl I remember thinking "that's what I want to be". She stood up for herself and spoke her mind. Nancy was a feisty heroine who drew on her intelligence and independence and who faced danger because she was confident in her ability to conquer it. Perhaps all these traits are what have allowed Ms Drew to stand the test of time, as she is as popular today as she was back then. Despite my niece coming from a generation raised on Bratz ("Oh.My.God - I am like SO not going there" spoken in a dumb American accent for full effect..) and High School Musical I hope she will pick up at least one Nancy Drew novel during her childhood. And of course, she'll always have her Auntie Hazel's novel on the shelf. I always knew my book would have a gutsy, resourceful, intelligent female character in it (I actually ended up with two, but then it is about time the tables were turned) Bree McCready has all the insecurities that any 12 year old girl might have. She doesn't always feel like she fits in and despite being clever and good at swimming nobody ever seems to notice this. But she is strong and intelligent and during her adventures she discovers strengths and traits that she didn't know were there. She meets a new friend, Honey - an equally feisty, clever and funny girl who is simply not interested in fitting in with the norm.
So if all else fails at least I will have provided a couple of positive role models for my young niece to look up to as she grows up. Better that she aspires to be someone like Bree McCready than a doll who, if she were human would have to walk on all fours due to her proportions. Happy Birthday Barbie, you don't look a day over 20!

1 comment:

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