Why you should care
Because some lies don’t get more believable the more you tell them.
Chris Duncan is a Denver-based movie enthusiast, tax professional and cultural critic.
Hollywood’s rumor du jour: Amy Schumer will star in a live-action film adaptation of Mattel’s legendary Barbie toy series. Insofar as I understand things, the plot is that Schumer plays a Barbie who has been banished from Barbieland for “not being perfect enough.” Schumer/Barbie then has to live in the real world and discovers that maybe it’s OK to not be so … perfect. The movie is aiming for a PG rating, presumably targeting girls ages 6 to 10 who play with Barbie dolls.
I am troubled that they’re setting up a fairly average-looking blond woman as somehow not good enough.
My problem with this concept? It’s not that Schumer doesn’t have Barbie’s figure — that is physically impossible — or with the lesson that “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” My problem is that the very concept of the movie gives impressionable young girls an image of what is imperfect, of what isn’t good enough — and does it with someone who, physically, is ordinary. In other words, they’re setting up a fairly average-looking blond woman as somehow not good enough.
I realize that, as a man, my perspective on what little girls go through is very limited. But I grew up with a younger sister and have five nieces. Body image concerns set in early, and girls get self-conscious at an early age. What about young girls who are overweight? Not just girls who have minor body issues they wish they could change. What do they see? And what about skinny girls? So much of pop culture caters to women’s curves, and skinny girls have insecurities too.
The comparison to this is the age-old fairy tale The Ugly Duckling, about an ugly duckling that suffers abuse from others around him and eventually grows into a beautiful swan. But children don’t really know what an “ugly duckling” looks like. Children are able to project whatever their insecurities are onto the duck and realize that they can overcome these insecurities. Not so much with Schumer’s Barbie: She represents a very real and physical image of what’s supposedly unacceptable.
If you’re telling children that being fat and ugly is OK, you’re implying that they are fat and ugly. Kids tend to stop at that, rather than move on to the “it’s OK” part. Girls in the target demographic of the Barbie movie shouldn’t be worried about body image at that point in their lives; their bodies will go through many changes in the coming years. The demographic of this film is children, not women in their 20s or teens, or bourgeois feminists who want to go to the movies and see their idealized vision of the world.
You can successfully have a diversity of body types, races, genders and sexual orientations in Hollywood without the need to constantly draw attention to it. You don’t need to cheapen the diversity into tokenism, especially when communicating about serious concerns with children. Hollywood can and should do better.