Whoo boy. Since my last Takedown, the “Bald Barbie movement” exploded, with the story being broadcast worldwide and 110,000 more people jumping on the bandwagon and liking the Facebook page.
Let me get this out right from the start: I don’t hate kids with cancer. I am not, contrary to some of the comments made on my last article, a disgusting heartless pig. And yes, I’ve been touched by cancer. We all have, almost certainly, which is one of the reasons why this movement is so offensive to me: it’s a big deal, and it’s a waste of time and energy, and it is harmful to kids who really don’t need to be beaten with the beauty-expectations stick.
I’m not going to get into a touched-by-cancer competition, with the winner being the person with the most horrific story. All that does is detract from the real arguments, and cloud what is actually a very straightforward situation.
Since my article, a few things about the movement have become more apparent, and so I’m returning to address them:
1) Anybody who voices criticism of the movement is immediately vilified. Check out the Facebook page, and you will almost certainly see it happen firsthand within a few minutes (depending, of course, on how quickly the wall is moving).
As an adult person, I have never been called the names that were slung at me for my article. It’s not just me, though. One person suggested that there were more important things to focus on than putting together a protest. This woman had been posting positive remarks about the movement in general and simply disagreed with the idea of a protest.
This disagreement was seen as a complete inability to empathize with people for whom the woman had come to the page to support. The recipient of the response above posted this in response to somebody who thought it would be a good idea to create a Barbie who had had a mastectomy:
Another woman said she was going to “unlike” the page as it was clogging up her news feed. She was lambasted for not being a “true supporter” and somebody suggested that maybe someday her kids would get cancer so she would know what it was like. For wanting to unlike a Facebook page.
Any movement that requires blind, unquestioning support raises warning flags. There is no way to support the idea while offering constructive criticism; there is no way to improve upon the idea set out from the get-go, regardless of how the situation may change. This is an interesting phenomenon, given that the entire movement is based upon trying to change a business plan of a company to which they have no ties. It is a movement trying to change a company by using constructive criticism, while being unable to accept any criticism itself.
Which brings me to:
2) This “movement” was fuzzy in nature when it had 3,000 Facebook fans, and it has gained exactly zero cohesiveness with the other 110,000 likes. The info is the same, although they did go back and spell Mattel correctly (but did not change the usage of “bald” as a noun). The Barbie is supposed to help “young girls who suffer from hair loss due to cancer treatments, Alopecia or Trichotillomania. Also, for young girls who are having trouble coping with their mother’s hair loss from chemo.” So, the mission of the doll would be to help girls to understand adults who have lost hair from chemo, but no other reason, but if the young girls themselves are sick, it could be chemo, Alopecia, or Trichotillomania. This type of inconsistency should be caught in the planning stages, but it remains.
It actually seems like the different types of hair loss were added as a hasty afterthought when the page was being made, so as to be as inclusive as possible (for the girls, although not the adults in their lives). The entire focus of the movement is on funding research for childhood cancers (and no other hair loss problems), and it looks like the other types of hair loss were just used as an added bonus (again, for the girls, but not the adults). The language being used in the information is cluttered and inconsistent. The punctuation is messy, and it reads like something that was thrown together at the end of a long day. And maybe after some drinks.
The formatting of the language might seem like no big deal, but when you have 113,000 people demanding some sort of change, somebody should be responsible for making it look professional. And the hedging about the goals (“could be included,” “we would love to see,” etc.) makes it feel like nobody actually knows what they really want.
Perhaps as a result of that, the people who are “liking” the page all come to it with different ideas about what they are “liking.” “They should donate the proceeds to help kids with cancer!” they say, as if that isn’t one of the main (and only clear) tenets. “They should also include Trichotillomania!” even though it is, inexplicably, already included. “They should give scarves and hats to accessorize!” as though the information page doesn’t already suggest that. But there are other suggestions. “What about Ken?” and, “They should have different skin tones!” and, “They should ask the American Girl doll manufacturers to do it!” and, “I can’t believe nobody is doing this, if Mattel isn’t doing this, somebody should step up!” (as if nobody is doing it, when, actually, there already are these dolls on the market, made by small non-profits).
The only thing that is unanimous is, “If you agree with this page, you hate cancer, and if you disagree, you are a heartless disgusting pig.”
Which brings me to:
3) Protest. The administrators disagree with boycotts and protests, although many, many “likers” have called for one or joined up with one they thought was being undertaken (see point 2, above). A third party organized a protest on their behalf, which they co-signed, and then explained that it wasn’t a protest, but a “gathering of support.” A gathering of support intended to protest a decision by a megacompany.
That is to say: when I first saw the protest being advertised on the wall, the admins agreed that they were in support of a gathering. Such posts have since been removed, but I could not have been the only one who saw them. Now, though, they say unequivocally:
The protest supporter responded that they had agreed, but they removed his post (and possibly banned him from the page). But removing the post does nothing to clear up the confusion, or the fact that there have been mixed messages from the beginning. He posted on the protest page:
Regardless of the intention of the administrators, which is hard to figure out at best, the obvious solution in many people’s minds is to fight back. Boycotting (which some people are already doing) is undertaken with the intent to hurt a company which has donated $30 million dollars and half a million toys to children’s hospitals in the last ten years. Not to mention the fact that they run their own Children’s Hospital. Wouldn’t that be antithetical to the mission of the movement, as it hurts a company that fights childhood cancers? No, because there is no mission.
4) I can’t get behind a movement that wants to make girls feel beautiful by removing the hair from Barbie, the symbol of harmful stereotypes of what it means to be beautiful. There are so many ways to be beautiful, and these messages about one and only one kind of beauty are harmful. From a page at Westminster College:
Numerous studies have verified that one’s subjective evaluation of their own appearance can have a powerful impact on a person’s development and psychosocial experiences (as cited in Butters & Cash, 1987). Researchers have found that body dissatisfaction is correlated with other forms of psychological impairment. Not surprisingly, disturbed body image is one of the main precursors for disordered eating and dieting in adolescent and young adult girls (Attie & Brooks-Gunn, 1989; Stice & Whitenton, 2002; Striegel-Moore & Schreiber, 2000; Tiggemann & Lynch, 2001). The prominence of dieting and maladaptive eating patterns has become an increasingly prevalent concern in adolescent and young adult populations; research has shown that around two-thirds of adolescent females report dieting at some point. Further, studies have shown that body dissatisfaction surpasses actual body mass as the most powerful risk factor for the development of dieting and disordered eating (Striegel-Moore & Franko, 2002).
Strangely, some of the likers seem to agree with this sentiment, talking about inner beauty and beauty for everybody.
These kinds of posts are all over the place: inner beauty is what counts, everybody is beautiful, bald Barbie will show people that there is more than one kind of beauty (so… two kinds?), etc. This relates back to problem #2 with the movement. What is the goal? Is it to show children that bald is beautiful because Barbie is bald and Barbie is beautiful? That seems to be the point (the name of the Facebook page is “Beautiful and Bald Barbie! Let’s see if we can get it made”), but there is simultaneous outpouring of support for bald Barbie as the symbol of beauty, along with continuous affirmations that beauty is an inner quality.
5) I also can’t get behind a movement that has done exactly zero research on the implications of possible success. There is evidence that Barbies are made using child labor.
When Anton Foek visited the Dynamics factory in Bangkok, where 4,500 workers, most of which are female, make Barbies as well as other toys, he was appalled at what he saw. Most of the workers were from northeastern Thailand, where there is extreme poverty. In this area, if the girls aren’t sold into sexual abusive slavery at 11 or 12, they are sent to work at big city factories to provide a steady income to help support their families. Foek described the conditions of the factory as, “long hours, hard work, low pay, no vacations, no sick days, and no rights. No union and thus no voice.” 75% of the workers had respiratory infections that came from inhaling dust. Still others suffered from chronic lead poisoning as a result of working with lead and various chemicals.
The fact that there is a movement to help little girls with cancer who can afford to buy a Barbie doll feel better about their appearance at the expense of little girls in Thailand who are creating such dolls and getting chronic lead poisoning is just disgusting.
And more implications: there are small, nonprofit companies on the market, and their proceeds benefit cancer patients. Asking Mattel to make a bald Barbie is a death sentence to these small businesses. I noticed that komfykids.com was posting often on the Facebook page, but nobody was willing to look, even those who kept saying that if Mattel wasn’t willing, somebody should. It’s like everybody is blinded by this idea that the only way to cure cancer is through this one avenue, which is not clearly defined, harmful to young girls, and fraught with social ugliness. There is no willingness to think critically.
Here’s the thing. If somebody on the admin page would say, “Listen, Barbie isn’t the only representation of beauty, but the fact is, she’s a very popular doll and creating a bald version could make hair loss in general more mainstream, and that could be helpful for kids who are struggling,” that would make sense. It would still be the wrong thing to do, but it would make sense. Instead, the movement is wrapped up in this vague idea of a mission, and of beauty, and curing cancer, and getting Mattel to donate proceeds from a doll that they don’t want to make to a cause that they already donate heavily to, and it’s just a huge mess.
The fans of the Facebook page say things like “I’m completely devoted to this,” and “I would buy a lot of these dolls!” and “We can do this together!” They do seem devoted. Sort of. Then you see this:
Even with the viral nature of this movement, even with the passion that people are spitting out all over the Facebook page, 98% of the people who “like” the page aren’t even talking about it. I’m not the only one who noticed (although not very many people were willing to “like” the sentiment below).
But let’s assume that the reason so few people are “talking about this” and so many “liked” the page is that those who liked it got off the computer so they could do some actual work for the cause. Here is my challenge to those who are a part of this movement. It seems to me that it is easy to “like” something, to press a button and show to your friends that you are, indeed, somebody who hates cancer and supports sick kids. It’s also not hard to say “I WOULD BUY ONE MILLION OF THESE!!!! DO IT, MATTEL!!!” It is hard to shell out the money. There are 113,000 people liking the page. If each person puts up the $20 or so it costs to buy a Special Edition Barbie, plus $10 that would be donated to charity, that’ll be $3.4 million dollars. With that kind of capital, a similar doll could be manufactured, mass-produced, and sold, and meet all of (what I gather are) the goals of the group except for the brand name of Barbie. There wouldn’t be much left to give to charity, but one of the main messages that keeps coming out is that the little girls need this particular doll, and money alone cannot meet those specific needs.
Or, everybody could donate $30 to charity. I realize that this means that I have no heart, but $3.4 million goes a long way in terms of research and could make a real difference. And not push standards of beauty that are unattainable onto sick little girls. And not crush small philanthropic businesses that are doing the same thing already. And not create a need for more exploitation of young women in Thailand. And not keep showing up on my news feed, making me (and every one of my friends who have gone through chemo, by the way) cringe at the idea that cancer struggles can somehow be improved by de-hairing a doll.
This movement has been very successful at getting attention. They have 113,000 people listening to them. They have a chance to make an enormous difference; I challenge them to make this difference, to use the attention that they have garnered, and to leave Mattel out of it. Let’s see if we can get it done.