MEDFORD, N.J. — It's hard to believe that Barbie could do anything to shock me. I've become accustomed to her flashy choices in apparel, seen her go through careers the way children cast off outerwear after a romp in the snow. I've waited patiently for her to settle down with Ken. I have remained silent.
But when she made the change to "Celebration Cake Barbie" this month, I realized it was time to speak out.
With the introduction of the 2000 line, the company has definitely made a play for the adult buyers -adding not only a doll in a cake, but also supermodels, a lingerie model, and others.
Yes, the folks at Mattel seem to have shaken off the urge to make their dolls something more than nail-painting, hair-coifing, clothes horses. The closest they got was back in 1999 when they introduced Women's National Basketball Association and soccer player Barbies. There was of course the "Limited Edition Lucille Ball" assembly-line doll and the 1950s era "Commuter Set" doll clad in a modest Chanel-style suit, white gloves, and open-toe mules, but that seems like a stretch.
So say hello to Barbie the tart leaping from pastry in a balletlike costume.
The new TV commercial shows two little girls eagerly setting up the cake, inserting Barbie in the hole in the top and then decorating the confection around her with real icing.
Hello? Mattel? What are you thinking?
I am sure the response would be to tell me that it's the innocent concept of teaching little girls skills they will need to make their way in the world someday. I can just hear the marketing people backpedaling as they spout off about supporting the culinary arts.
I have spoken with several mothers who bought this set. One fumed, "It's a dress. You're supposed to see it as a dress, not a cake."
I am not saying people buying this toy are bad parents. Only that the emperor still has no clothes and Barbie is definitely hip deep in a C-A-K-E, edible frosting and all.
Yes, I collected Barbie as a child. I loved her little shoes and fantasized about being her in a sports car and wild outfits. But that's not the Barbie of today. In Mattel's efforts to draw in adult collectors, it has tinged the children's market with a bizarre and tacky hybrid.
They are killing two birds with one stone by combining a dove with a raven.
The gamut on the www.barbie.com Web site runs from "Angel of Peace Barbie" to "Lingerie Barbie" in "... white satin bra and panty ensembles trimmed in white lace and ... pale pink bow accents. White stockings and garters and a wrist tag." Yes, she is also in dangling earrings and strappy, painful pumps.
Let's just savor that chaste image we're implanting in our little girls.
Is it any wonder that in Carl Hiaasen's latest novel, "Sick Puppy," one of the main characters is a Barbie fetishist? The funny part is that Mattel marketing people were probably horrified, shocked, and appalled that the writer chose their innocent toy for the fixation.
A friend's husband, upon seeing a commercial for "Lingerie Barbie," hustled his sons from the room and commented, "Unbelievable! What's next?"
These new dolls are part of the Barbie 2000 line that is supposed to bring her into the new millennium in style and grace. Along these lines are the new Super Model Barbies, unveiled on Valentine's Day this year, done in a new material called silkstone to give them a more sculpted look. So even Barbie wasn't flawless enough to be a supermodel.
I think the ultimate comment came from my son who viewed a commercial for a Barbie makeover CD-ROM and pronounced it, "girl stuff."
Why? "Because you don't have to think to do it. You don't solve puzzles or problems like boy games. You just change the way you look. Boys like the way they look already."
Well, Mattel, while I still don't know what you are thinking when you make these decisions, I know what your products are leading our children to think or not to think.
You can deny it all you want, cry "feminism" or "prude," but the fact is that if you keep going in this direction we may all outgrow Barbie. Tacky, shallow, and fluffy are destined to be limited editions in the female of the species. Maybe Barbie should get on board and really make the leap into the new millennium with the rest of us.
Lisa Suhay is a freelance writer in Medford, N.J. She is author of the forthcoming 'Tell Me a Story' (Paraclete Press).
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society