Exaggerated breasts, impossibly long legs, and a body thinner than the width of a hand are what is beautiful in the eyes of young girls today. “The Barbie Birthday” by Alison Townsend is a short story in which a woman looks back at the time she received a Barbie from her father’s girlfriend Shirley for her birthday; she admired both Barbie and Shirley as if they could show her how to be beautiful. A role model is a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated.
Parents, siblings, other family members,s and friends are common role models to look up to in life. However, for several years now, young girls have had Barbie dolls to play with. Barbies have become the new role models for them. Young girls are at a stage in their life where they are vulnerable to attempting to achieve the unattainable image Barbie is portraying. Alison Townsend uses imagery and symbolism to demonstrate how Barbie and Shirley promote an unrealistic idea of body image for young girls that would be painful to achieve.
Townsend uses imagery to show how Barbie and Shirley portray artificial beauty that is unachievable to young girls. Firstly, the narrator states, “And Barbie was Barbie, the same impossible body when you stripped off her suit, peeling it down over those breasts without nipples” (24). The narrator is just a little girl. She is at a time in her life when she is curious about the female body and is trying to figure out what being beautiful means, especially because her mother passed away and she does not have her to look up to.
The Barbie is not a good way for the narrator to educate herself about the body of a woman because it is unrealistic to achieve and it is completely false since we have nipples in real life. She is also using this to compare the doll to her mother who got cancer. She had to have her breasts cut off. Secondly, the narrator mentions, “As I lifted the lid of Barbie’s narrow, coffin-like box, she stared up at me, sloe-eyed, lids bruised blue, lashes caked thick with mascara, her mouth stuck in a pout seductive and sullen” (25). The author uses the words “bruised” and “stuck” to establish that it is painful to try to achieve this look. The word “caked” is used to show how it is grotesque. These are not beautiful qualities in a girl. Also, Townsend uses the term “seductive” to show how young girls are expected to have a sexual persona. Thirdly, another example of imagery is when the narrator thinks to herself: “Alone, I turned her over in my hands, marveling at her stiff, shiny body – the torpedo breasts, the wasp waist, the tall-drink of water legs that didn’t bend, and the feet on perpetual tiptoe, their arches crimped to fit her spike-heeled mules” (25). This description of Barbie’s body implies why she is a horrible role model to girls. Barbie and Shirley both represent images that are not natural. “Torpedo” is used to describe the breasts as perky and to imply how they shoot forward, which is completely unnatural. “Wasp” is used to show how Barbie’s waist is exceedingly small and trying to attain this would be painful. To end, based on the previous examples of imagery, Barbie is a negative role model to young girls because of the false and unachievable appearances she is portraying.
Furthermore, Townsend uses the symbol of “Barbie” to prove that she is a negative role model to young girls. First of all, the narrator explains, “Just that, then Barbie – whom I crept away with afterward, stealing upstairs to play with her beneath a sunny window” (25). Later in the story, we learn that Barbie was forbidden by her actual mother, therefore Townsend uses the words “crept” and “stealing” to understand that the narrator is feeling guilty for what she was doing. Barbie is symbolized as a horrible role model, which is why her mom was against her having adoll-likee Barbie. Second of all, the narrator thinks, “All Barbie had to do was glance back once and I followed, casting my lot with every girl on every block in America, signing on for life.” (25). Barbie is manipulative to girls and how all they want is to become like her. To feel beautiful, girls want to achieve Barbie’s fake appearance, which is why she is a bad role model.
Third of all, the narrator looks back at: “how to thank Shirley for the hard, plastic body that warmed when I touched it, leading me back to the world.” (25). The narrator states how Barbie made her feel happy and at ease when she had her as if Barbie could show her how to be a woman. The narrator feels as if Barbie is real by saying she felt as if the plastic body warmed when she touched it. This human quality is used to compare Barbie to Shirley who represents the real-life version of the doll. Again, the author shows how Barbie and Shirley get girls into believing they are role models to look up to.
In brief, “The Barbie Birthday” emphasizes how Barbie and Shirley act as negative role models to young girls. These characters portray a stereotypical image of “beauty” which is not only unattainable but also painful and grotesque. Girls start to believe that they must look a certain way to attain perfection when in reality these qualities are not beautiful.