Heavy Meta

Tarra's nom de plume. In a room of one's own.


    Barbie vs Jem: Plastic Baggage is Still Baggage

    Can’t a doll just be a doll? Sigh.


    barbie rockers

    Barbie has monstered the female body. Though her exact measurements differ from study to study, her average dimensions seem to be about 36-18-38, dimensions that would be pretty terrifying on a real woman. And dangerous. But young girls around the world are introduced to the female body through her body, from her plastic nipple-less breasts to the smoothness between her legs. Also, her toes are perpetually pointed, high-heel ready at any moment. Children who are introduced to the female body in this way can develop a skewed perception on what women are capable of, physically. I love wearing high heels. But I love having the choice.

    Of course, I realize she’s just a doll, a toy representation of a woman. But this plastic woman has consumer power, probably far beyond what her painted on eyes could have foreseen, which means that this is an issue. This little lady is in our homes, in children’s hands, and in their minds.   

    Why do young girls relate to her? She was a solitary woman for awhile, making her way in the world, but as a truly successful woman she had to have a man. Enter Ken. Then, as a woman who is able to have it all, sister Skipper was introduced in 1964, and finally Barbie had a family. This is the message? 

    Moving on. More on Barbie another day.

    Barbie and the Rockers was Barbie’s response to Jem and the Holograms.


    Jem and the Holograms (Misfits too!) provide a much more realistic, “bigger boned” plastic mold of a woman. Jem is dedicated to a specific occupation — rock. She did have arched feet, but at a much more realistic incline. Her body, compared to Barbie’s, maybe reflected how young girls were feeling at the time. Who didn’t feel awkward and “different” as children and young women? For those of us who played with the Jem dolls, one of the first things we noticed, and still discuss, is the larger than life plastic bodies they had. By placing Jem’s body on the market after 30+ years of the Barbie, perhaps the underlying message, something we can take away from the body issue, is that not all dolls had to be the same size? Or maybe they were just supposed to be larger than life? 

    Which is not to say that Jem was perfect. The show itself was incredibly flawed. The amount of violence directed toward women is staggering, and Rio’s obvious infidelity is unforgivable.

    What’s great about it though is that it portrays a group of  women who are dedicated to each other and to a musical experience. They also raise young girls in an orphanage, quite the feat! By perpetuating their experience to this group of young girls — talk about heavy meta! As an audience member in the mid-80s, I was one of those metaphorical orphans, looking for that female rock n’ roll role model in the midst of the Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crue’s. Those bands were awesome, but they didn’t necessarily provide the reflection I was subconsciously seeking.  Jem was an animated mirror of what was going on in the real world. Jem’s style became the style of the Starlight mansion girls, just as Madonna’s lace draped every young girl from ages 7-16. They were literally role models for those young girls, and they embraced that role. It was a voluntary consequence of their rock star position, and they took it seriously. 

    While rock was just one stop on Barbie’s journey through occupational schizophrenia, Jem and the Holograms lived it. However, both provided cassette tapes. So…that’s pretty awesome.

    The battle continues: http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=57884444465&topic=9666

    — 4 years ago