But we’ve always felt that Sindy was more sensible. She had too much dignity to go under the knife. At 50 I assumed she’d look like my GCSE Art teacher, not Sharon Stone. Is the nice girl image that Sindy’s been lugging around in her matronly pockets all these years a fair one? Is she really any more feminist than Barbie?
In 1963, Pedigree Toys introduced Sindy, a clean, girl-next-door doll with a round face and a thick waist and outfits that would make Jan Brady reach for the scissors. She was designed to capture the hearts of British girls in the same way that Barbie had strutted into every home in America.
Sindy’s prudish charms were a hit, and for the next twenty years she dominated the doll industry throughout Europe, knocking up a grand total of 150 million sales in her lifetime.
But the battle between Sindy and Barbie isn’t just about dolls. It never has been. It’s about the fear of prepubescent girls being exposed to sex, it’s about feminism and body image and the virgin/whore dichotomy. It’s about anorexia and role models and black dolls with caucasian features, disabled dolls whose wheelchairs didn’t fit in the Dream House lift. It’s about careers, family and society. Superficiality. Love. Growing up. Ultimately, it’s the struggle to determine what ideals we should instill in a future generation of women.
Sindy represented the good girls. The girls who would grow up to be modest and smart and wouldn’t have sex until they were married and ready to reproduce. Because that’s what sex is for. It’s for babies. Sindy has a chubby face and all the wonderful self respect and lack of sex appeal that a chubby face ensures. Barbie is bad. She’s bad and she’s a slut and she’s the kind of girl who parties way too much. She has Ken, but let’s face it, Ken is just as shallow and slutty and he will leave Barbie for a younger doll as soon as her hair begins to matt. Sindy’s beau Paul has the muscle definition of a particularly weak child but he’s a doctor. Or an airline pilot. He has no time for such trivialities as the gym. So there’s your choice. Good or bad. Naughty or nice.
And anyone who thinks “hush up, they’re just toys” is faced with an army of academics who argue, very convincingly, that the notion that the relationship between a young girl and her dolls evolves throughout her development is valid, and more than that, it can have a lasting mark on how she perceives the world later on.
At 50 I assumed sindy would look like my GCSE Art teacher, not Sharon Stone
“‘I wanted to dress Barbie in more non-traditional career outfits, such as a firefighter or astronaut, and see if that affected how girls saw their future selves,’ she said. First, she assessed the girls' career aspirations and how flexible they were in their gender attitudes. ‘I asked them about very masculine or very feminine jobs, and if they think that just men can do the masculine jobs, or that just women can do the feminine jobs, or whether they think both men and women can do the jobs,’ she said.
Most of the girls thought they could not do the non-stereotypical jobs.
Then Coyle dressed the Barbies in the non-stereotypical outfits. ‘The girls watched this transformation of Barbie and... for the most part, after we dressed the dolls, the girls said that they could do the jobs the outfits represented. Sometimes they would comment and say, ‘I've never seen a girl do that before, but, yes, I could do that job when I grow up.'’
Of the small number who said they couldn't do a job, the primary reason they gave was that the particular job was only for boys.
‘I do think that girls look to Barbie for these messages about what they can or cannot do,' said Coyle. 'She is a model in and of herself, and simply changing the way she was dressed made a difference. Dolls that disconfirm stereotypes could be great for girls.’”
In 2005, Dr. Agnes Nairn at the University of Bath published a paper which confirms that many young girls go through a stage where they hate their Barbie dolls and are violent or unpleasant towards them.
“Researchers have exposed a world in which seven to eleven year old girls subject their Barbie dolls to torture, maiming and decapitation as a way of expressing their changing feelings about the doll.
“The meaning of ‘Barbie’ went beyond an expressed antipathy; actual physical violence and torture towards the doll was repeatedly reported, quite gleefully, across age, school and gender.”
“Of all of the products... Barbie aroused the most complex and violent emotions,” said Dr Nairn.
“The girls we spoke to see Barbie torture as a legitimate play activity, and see the torture as a ‘cool’ activity in contrast to other forms of play with the doll. The types of mutilation are varied and creative, and range from removing the hair to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving.”
Barbie’s caused controversy since the day she pulled up in her pink jeep. She’s more commonly linked to eating disorders and body dysmorphia, both of which have been heavily documented. Whether or not it’s fair to lay the blame entirely on Barbie’s shoulders for the poor body image or negative attitudes of young girls, it’s obvious that Barbie harbours a long established paradigm of what beautiful, happy women look like, at a time when girls are vulnerable and confused.
So Sindy should be the bastion of hope and reason then? Sindy should be carrying the torch for hard working, interesting girls with less than perfect looks? The problem is, she never has. Yeah her body is a little less Baywatch. Her appearance a little more Velma Dinkley. That’s fab. I’m all for it. But she never really challenged gender stereotypes. She had a job, sure, but she was an air stewardess. Or a ballerina. Something which appeared to be sending out the right message but wouldn’t degender Sindy. She came with an ironing board and a laundry basket and never a skateboard or a metal detector. And with every year that passed, every reinvention of her rival that promised to push her out of the doll market for good, Sindy became more and more like Barbie.
And she’s always been associated with those words that really niggle me. ‘Wholesome’. ‘Innocent’. ‘Unassuming’. Like because she has no obvious sexuality she’s a better person. And why wouldn’t Sindy have sex? Because she’s fatter than your average doll? Because she’s seemingly bookish? Girls who wear trousers don’t snog boys? Somewhere along the line the way adults view the dolls, which apparently is either sexy or unsexy, has been mixed in with all the really negative stuff that Barbie emulates.
There’s lots I don’t like about Barbie. But to be honest, Sindy’s hurt me way more. She was the feminist prototype for little girls, the doll who we could all look up to. Only she wasn’t. And 50 years later she still isn’t She’s just a Barbie, in Sindy’s clothing.
Bad Influence Barbie
Girl Power Tools