I didn’t have many Barbies growing up. The ones I did have were gifts from friends at birthday parties because my mother was never especially keen on Barbie’s exaggerated, oversexed proportions (part of my parents larger plan to do their darndest to teach me to fill my head more than my closet). As a mother of all boys, (none of whom have recieved them as birthday gifts) I’ll admit it’s been a while since I’ve had much time with Barbie. A few months ago, while chatting with a friend and picked up two of the Barbies, bereft of clothing, which had been strewn across the floor by her house full of daughters. I eyed the two denuded Barbies. One was traditional Barbie, the Barbie of my youth, and the second was Barbie plus… Barbie plus Dr. 90210 that is.
Pairing the two for closer inspection it was obvious Barbie plus had been nipped and augmented at every curve from her decidedly Brazilian derriere to her obviously silicone “amendments”. Her calves and ankles were skinnier, her brows lifted. Normal Barbie has always been freakishly disproportionate, but this doll had no resemblance to normal womanly features. No supple, subtle gracious curves like those of the nude marble Greek sculptures I used to draw in my art musuem classes, simply an awkward conglomeration of classically fake “plastic surgery” features. Don’t get me wrong plastic surgeons can do amazing things. I have witnessed first hand over 1000 reconstructive plastics procedures on medical missions. I’ve sat with a 17 year old boy as he looked in a mirror for the first time following a cleft lip repair and cried with relief because he said someone would marry him now. I’ve seen it at it’s height of transformativeness and it excessive lows of shallow vanity.
Over vacation, I watched an old Sinatra flick, Pal Joey, with my sister. I stared at the curvaceous women, a stark reminder of where we’ve come in our lean idealization of the female form, no more glory for the Rubens-esque. My sister then commented on her recent observance of Linda Carter’s very womanly Wonder Woman physique. Wow, my legs would’ve fit right in, I could’ve made it in a late 50’s nightclub or better yet as a lassoing superheroine. Still today as a decidely confident woman, I feel some apologetic twinges of self consciousness as I peel down at the beach.
At Barnes and Noble one night, I ran across a magazine on all the latest advances in aesthetic beauty. This glossy mag was half as thick as a phone book. Pages on improving your eyelashes– seriously eyelashes (no not mascara) we’re talking growth stimalulators, lash transplants (I do know that there are good reasons for this post burns/chemo, but that was not the target audience). Half a ream on every type of laser treatment, injectable fillers, and body contouring. I was grotesquely fascinated. I couldn’t believe there was a magazine devoted to this. Side columns filled with humanizing profiles of the top docs for each body “trouble spot”. No woman could look through that magazine without thinking that nature had dealt her a nasty hand, and finding flaws in her body she had never even before contemplated.
We do these things because we can. In our advanced society we have the technology, we have the money, we have the leisurely lifestyles that let us sit around and worry about our eyelashes and minor wrinkles. What is it to be a girl who grows up where your perceived normal is not natural? It’s all been sucked, tightened, and plumped to the tune of thousands of dollars. What is it to look around in a crowd thinking “that” is natural and you must be aberrant? What are the deeper implications of all this on women and girls, body image, and sexuality? Is it just part of our times and as natural, as getting new furniture or renovating a room?
Here were Elder Jeffrey R Holland thoughts from October 2005:
In terms of preoccupation with self and a fixation on the physical, this is more than social insanity; it is spiritually destructive, and it accounts for much of the unhappiness women, including young women, face in the modern world. And if adults are preoccupied with appearance—tucking and nipping and implanting and remodeling everything that can be remodeled—those pressures and anxieties will certainly seep through to children. At some point the problem becomes what the Book of Mormon called “vain imaginations.” And in secular society both vanity and imagination run wild.
Still aesthetic procedures are on the rise. It’s becoming part of our culture and where does it fit in LDS culture? I hear alot of thoughts from women. Some say it’s in attempts to keep their husbands happy. A current popular one among moms is “restored to my former glory” line. “I sacrificed to have kids and I deserve to be back to the way it was before”. Or “It’s just always bugged me”. While I try to understand these, I also try to keep a certain perspective, I feel pretty grateful to have a body that for the most part works well, claim those few inches that tag along unwantedly around my waist as battle scars for getting 3 boys into this world, and want to be known for who I am and what I do – not how I fill out a sweater. I want to accept age and change graciously. How would I tell a daughter who inherited “imperfect” features that she’d better start saving 10 grand to look “normal?” Maybe these beliefs antiquated, conservative– am I the last of the lead pencil club (or rather non-plastics club)?
Tell me your thoughts? Is there an intersection of beauty and faith; our bodies, our money, our stewardship? Is there a moral /spiritual dimension to beautifying? To nipping and tucking? Where does it begin and end? When does it cross the line into destructive or vain? What do the “before and after shots” of this phenomenon on our society reveal?
And all our men readers, I’d love to hear from you also…
(P.S. Lest I get Barbie flack I am cool with her, no need to defend)