Researchers find widespread Barbie mutilation

From an A.P. article:

LONDON – Barbie, beware. The iconic plastic doll is often mutilated at the hands of young girls, according to research published Monday by British academics. “The girls we spoke to see Barbie torture as a legitimate play activity, and see the torture as a ‘cool’ activity,” said Agnes Nairn, one of the University of Bath researchers. “The types of mutilation are varied and creative, and range from removing the hair to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving.”

Researchers from the university’s marketing and psychology departments questioned 100 children about their attitudes to a range of products as part of a study on branding. They found Barbie provoked the strongest reaction, with youngsters reporting “rejection, hatred and violence,” Nairn said.

“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,” she said.

I find it interesting that Barbie is apparently hated and mutilated more often than other toys (including, one presumes, other female dolls). And I have to admit, I love the idea of gleeful little girls microwaving Barbies to death.

UPDATE: Be sure to read this post on Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty.

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34 Responses to Researchers find widespread Barbie mutilation

  1. Pingback: feminist blogs

  2. 2
    Q Grrl says:

    This study is rife with statistical problems. Beyond that, I would like to know how they are defining “torture” or “abuse”. Anyone who spends time with small children knows that *all* toys are subject to destruction and bizarre treatments. Besides, 100 children do not a good study make. That’s a very small sample pool and I’m not sure it factors in for economic status and exposure to violence on TV and in video games. Barbie might be the most logical target for “torture” b/c all the bigger kids and adults are making her the same target.

  3. 3
    mangala says:

    I certainly recall removing the hair of my Barbies. Don’t all little girls get bored with the same big blonde hairstyle she has and want a change? (Incidentally, I had a couple that had belonged to my mother – and they’d had their hair cut off before I got ‘em, so that at least may not be new.) I also managed to break at least one doll while trying to force it into some position other than standing or lounging. Finally, the heads of Barbie (and Ken dolls) actually come off rather easily (particularly if one has a dog around the house to help it along, it turns out) – I remember re-decapitating a few in the course of making up storylines about them, to explain the fact that the heads didn’t stay on anymore.

    I really wonder how much this sort of play can be distinguished from genuinely vengeful toy-mutilation.

  4. 4
    Audrey H. says:

    “They found Barbie provoked the strongest reaction, with youngsters reporting “rejection, hatred and violence,” Nairn said.”

    Hmm. But they don’t say how youngsters (kids!) report “rejection, hatred and violence”.

    Children like testing limits with things which are otherwise dear to them. I used to do “bad” things to my toys and eventually to my pets (nothing serious, tho.) It’s like the little girl in Kill Bill – she only realized she had done something bad when she lifted her foot and saw she had squeezed the fish. :)

    Same goes for toys: they just want to have some “power” over toys the way adults have power over material things. They “torture” cars, Playmobil, lego and Barbie dolls out of the desire to … destroy. Which is natural to an extent, I guess.

  5. 5
    kutsuwamushi says:

    In my experience, mutilating Barbie is something that you’re supposed to do. Decapitating her and covering her in sharpie shows that you’re not one of those silly, stupid girly-girls who likes pink. Barbie is targeted more often because she’s so popular.

    Looking back, I think the anti-girly sentiment that drove me and my peers to mutilate Barbie (I’m talking deliberate destruction, not creative alteration) is somewhat disturbing. So is vehement hatred of pink and other things that are associated with girls.

    Perhaps my experience isn’t that common, but I really don’t think I’m all that unusual, as much as I would have liked to think so when I was a young teen …

  6. 6
    neha says:

    I am not really surprised. I confess – I have mutilated a few Barbies when I was younger – luckily they weren’t mine. (Unlucky for the owners!)

    There is something oppressing about a Barbie. And I do not say this with the intelligence and articulation who has read a few pamphlets on gender. That doll is perfect. She stares at you from posters and inside plastic doll houses – glaring – poking her perfect plastic breasts and shaming you for your baby fat and glasses.

    In her crazily flexible body, you could turn every limb till it felt you rip her apart. You could control her. It begins with you pretending you want to teach her gymnastics… pretty soon – the limbs must come off..

    And maybe we grew up with too many violence scenes against women in movies. Maybe I thought that’s what you should do to a pretty woman. Rip her. Kill her. Control her. Why didn’t I do it to the male action dolls? Should we really be happy that a female doll (never mind the other connotations) get mutilated more than any other doll?

    Either way – It makes me sad beyond belief.

  7. 7
    LC says:

    I don’t rember mutilating Barbies. I do remember makingBarbie and Ken do it, I also remember girls drawing nipples/genitalson Barbie and Ken. I did know boys whomutilated male action figures and girls who did terrible things token and Barbie.

  8. 8
    Tara says:

    Neha,

    That’s a really good point, I was also somewhat disturbed by this and I think you said it better than I could.

  9. 9
    Lilith says:

    Wow, slow news day, huh? Also, what Q Grrl said.

  10. 10
    odanu says:

    I relished torturing Barbie as a little girl. My mother kept buying me the damned things and spending two months sewing cute little outfits for the bitch, and I couldn’t wait to rip off her head and legs and mark all over her with ballpoint.

    My mother wanted me to be a “lady”. I wanted to climb trees, read, and ride horseback (sometimes two of three at the same time). I played with my GI Joe action figure, my Geronimo action figure (which I still have) and my dolls (a soft bodied baby doll named Victoria, and a doll of Buffy from A Family Affair, complete with her own Mrs. Beasley — which I also still have), without any desire for mutilation.

    But Barbie represented that simultaneously desexed and oversexualized “lady” my mother so wanted to be. The “lady” who talks about the weather and loved shopping and did let big thoughts enter her little blonde head. My mother hated my full, loud, sometimes obnoxious laugh. She told me repeatedly that no man would ever love me if he knew how smart I was. Despite having the best grades and most potential of her children in terms of academic success, she paid for a portion of my brothers’ college educations, but none of mine.

    It heartens me to see that girls still have enough healthy self esteem to reject the “perfection” that Barbie represents so violently.

  11. 11
    Lilith says:

    It heartens me to see that girls still have enough healthy self esteem to reject the “perfection” that Barbie represents so violently.

    Really? On the other hand, I have to say that it disheartens me to see that girls and women may well be confusing liberation from restrictive codes of femininity with expressions of outright violent misogyny. For instance:

    I relished torturing Barbie as a little girl. My mother kept buying me the damned things and spending two months sewing cute little outfits for the bitch, and I couldn’t wait to rip off her head and legs and mark all over her with ballpoint.

  12. 12
    odanu says:

    It wasn’t hatred of Barbie as a woman, but of the perfect ideal expected of me as a consumer of Barbie dolls, and of grown women to emulate Barbie dolls. It was a clear rejection of the patriarchy, which Barbie represented clearly.

    I was rejecting then, and still reject, that the ideal woman has huge nipple-less tits and no vulva, and a waist that only starvation can acheive as well as permanently deformed feet from the equivalent of three inch heels… effectively an object that is both sexless and inaccessible and simultaneously sexually grotesque. I was rejecting, and still reject, the “Barbie Dream House” and her obsession with clothes and parties and playing, and not a thought in her head. I was rejecting, and still reject, her vapid relationship with an equally de-sexed male doll. Barbie was and is a male designed fantasy of an ideal woman that is so grotesque, vapid and misshapen that it is an almost perfect depiction of misogyny, with the purpose of co-opting little girls into the destruction of their own self-esteem and dreams of success.

  13. 13
    Lilith says:

    Right, but the words you used, like “torture” and “bitch” personified Barbie as a woman in a misogynist way and offered violence as a satisfying solution to the problems presented by her message. Dismembering “ideal” women in effigy is not a proto-feminist act. It is a misplaced act of violence from a girl trapped in a patriarchal society where she feels she cannot direct her aggression at anyone more appropriate.

  14. 14
    Casey says:

    I don’t think i ever tortured my barbies, but i had friends who did for sure. i also had male friends who tortured their GI Joes (melting them and stuff). I remember being disturbed by that actually. i was always careful with my toys though, i remember i could make them last for years whereas my brother would ruin his often within weeks. however, i was never into barbies anyway. i think i had a few that relatives gave me, but i didn’t do much with them. and mainly i was more into horses, climbing trees, reading, like someome said above, and collecting bugs and lizards. my mom didn’t like the last one too much. the toys i mainly played with were legos.

    my mom was a feminist though, and a hippie, and didn’t like barbie anyway. i think she bought me one once, but only because it wasn’t the normal blonde barbie, but it was a darker-skinned, black haired barbie.

  15. 15
    Suzanne says:

    I mutilated my Barbies, too. They weren’t the only toys I mutilated, by far, but they were the best to use. (G.I. Joes also got mangled in play, of course, but my mother didn’t like us to have those because they supposedly glorified violence or some such thing. Legos were routinely blown up, rebuilt, and blown up again. All sorts of things.) I had so many Barbies and they were so inspid. People were always giving them to me as presents and I was never fond of pink or shopping or styling hair, so destroying them became part of the game.

    Though, the most extreme time was probably when I discovered that one of the Ken dolls I owned had, for some reason, a head that screwed on. Well… If it screwed on, it could damn well screw back off, couldn’t it? So I took it off and started throwing it around with my older brother and one of my girlfriends. That just escalated. The three of us tore apart all of my Barbie dolls (and their associates: Ken, whatever the little sister’s name was, etc.) and threw the limbs out of my bedroom window. I still remember how much fun it was. I couldn’t have been more than 9 and I was probably younger. I wasn’t given any more dolls after that. That suited me just fine. I went back to blowing up Legos.

  16. 16
    sarah says:

    National Barbie in a Blender Day! Celebrate free speech!

    “Will this damage my blender or void my warrenty?” “We have no idea- Barbie blending is a new art form and we’re all forging this path together.”

  17. 17
    Mendy says:

    I didn’t have that many Barbies, but I was more into board games, puzzles, and books. The few I did have went through the wringer in about six months of their purchase.

    And I never played with my Barbies like other girls did. No shopping for my Barbie. I had her fighting alongside GI Joe and raiding tombs like Indiana Jones. The doll was merely a toy that allowed me to use my imagination to entertain myself.

    But in general, Barbies (most action figures in fact) just don’t stand up well to the rigors of children’s play. They come apart too easily, and they are simply blank canvases for budding young designers, tattoo artists, and hair stylists to practice upon.

  18. 18
    Richard Bellamy says:

    2006 Sundance movie The Tribe asks the fascinating question about what Barbie has to do with modern Judaism.

    http://tribethefilm.com/index.html

  19. 19
    sophronia says:

    I’m really aging myself here, but the only Barbie I destroyed was one of those big Barbie heads that you’re supposed to practice makeup and hairstyles on. I was about four, and after watching a TV show about hippies, I proceeded to draw flowers and butterflies all over Barbie’s face, just like the beautiful hippie girls on TV. My parents were mortified — that Barbie head was a gift from my grandma, who was a hairdresser and very conservative. Barbie disappeared and some excuse had to be made up for when grandma visited.

    I think part of the problem with Barbie is she’s just not fun to play with. I had lots of dolls, all of whom had their own personalities and took part in elaborate multipart adventures where they ran away from orphanages, time traveled, met aliens, etc. But you could never play anything with Barbie except getting her dressed up for a date. I don’t know why but something about that doll made it impossible to imagine her doing anything else.

  20. 20
    silverside says:

    Oh, I dunno. I’m sure Mattel never imagined this, but my sister and I (believe it or not) actually constructed ancient matriarchal societies with our Barbie dolls. This was before I knew anything about the ancient matriarchal societies at all, so it grew purely out of a play impulse and a shallow reading of Greek mythology. Never underestimate how certain objects can be co-opted in utterly unpredictable ways.

  21. 21
    alsis39 says:

    sophronia wrote:

    I don’t know why but something about that doll made it impossible to imagine her doing anything else.

    Possibly because she couldn’t stand up on her own ? Skipper could, back in the day, but I think they gave her a makeover and that’s no longer the case.

    Talk about showing your age: I can remember that some company had a doll called Dynamite where part of the selling pitch was that she could stand up on her own. Also, there was briefly a motorcycle-riding female doll named Daring Something-Or-Other.

  22. 22
    Daran says:

    Q Grrl:

    Besides, 100 children do not a good study make.

    It doesn’t necessarily make a bad study. The law of diminishing returns applies: 1000 is better, but not ten times better.

    The main credibility killer for studies with small samples is that they’re usually far from representative. Big, well-funded studies usually go to significant lengths to obtain a random representative sample.

  23. 23
    Daran says:

    I was born in the Early sixties in England, at a time when WWII and its aftermath were impressed upon the national psyche much more than it is now. Many of my toys were plastic model wartime aircraft. I remember using a flame-heated needle to burn tiny holes all over them, to make them look as though they’d been badly shot up in a battle.

    I never had a Barbie. I did have a talking Action Man though. He was very boring and repetitive. Clearly these things have no effect at all on what you turn out like as an adult. No, really…

  24. 24
    Samantha says:

    Decapitating her and covering her in sharpie shows that you’re not one of those silly, stupid girly-girls who likes pink. Barbie is targeted more often because she’s so popular.

    Looking back, I think the anti-girly sentiment that drove me and my peers to mutilate Barbie (I’m talking deliberate destruction, not creative alteration) is somewhat disturbing. So is vehement hatred of pink and other things that are associated with girls.

    I think you’ve got something there, and I used to be this person, too. Everything in my world (including two brothers about my age) supported the notion of female inferiority so I came to depise outright girlishness until age 20 or so. I had no pink in my wardrobe and gravitated towards the boyish pursuits of my brothers (video games, D&D, Transformers, etc) but still got “girl gifts” like Barbies from people. I chopped their hair off and didn’t otherwise mutilate them, but I remember the anti-girl sentiment of my youth vivdly and think Barbie getting tortured more than other toys is entirely plausible by kutsuwamushi’s reasoning of the rejection of femininity.

    I read in some lefty mag or other about a teacher who rebuked some girls snickering over the mention of gay men by explaining to them that society’s rejection of gay men is part and parcel with its rejection of the feminine in all its perceived forms. When I think on how weekly papers carry prostitution ads for women and transgender men socially performing femininity but not transgender women socially performing as men, that anecdote about the teacher trying to explain the social degredation of femininity in all its forms comes to mind.

  25. 25
    Samantha says:

    Sometimes the spelling errors bug more than other times; I meant degradation.

  26. 26
    Lola says:

    Yep, I hated Barbie when I was a kid because I thought she was a bad female role model. My mutilation crimes included chopping all of her hair off and making her stay after school for gossiping with her friends instead of paying attention in class.

  27. 27
    Frida says:

    In the microwave, the head melts first. The legs go after that. In case anybody was wondering.

    [I actually did this last year, not in my childhood. I had an idea for a still life.]

  28. 28
    WozDav says:

    As something of a practical aside to this article, I was especially concerned to read of girls allegedly microwaving their Barbies. I wonder how often this has actually happened, and whether, with the publication of this research in the popular media, we will see many imitations, with possible dangerous consequences.

    As a result of my concern, I actually went to a charity store and bought a used Barbie doll. I took it home and placed it in my microwave, with some trepidation. After just 55 seconds of microwaving, thick white smoke and an acrid burning-plastic odour were billowing from around the edges of the microwave door. I hastily opened the door and the room filled with the most choking and presumably toxic fumes. Putting the air-con on full blast for 10 minutes still left the room hazy and smelly.

    I believe the results of my experiment deserve widespread publicity, as I fear the girls imitating what they have no doubt seen in the media may endanger their health through breathing the fumes of their cremated toys, or worse, burn down the family home – I didn’t experiment further to see what would happen if I left the Barbie in the microwave for the full 10 minutes I had programmed!

  29. 29
    Radfem says:

    alsis, I remember Dynamite magazine….:o

    I never mutilated Barbie, but I did have a stunt Barbie, who got tossed around quite a bit. My brothers drew beards on some of them. Wonder if they’ll do a study on that!

    But you do splits the wrong way, the legs pop of anyway. They are not very durable.

    It’s kind of disturbing in ways Lilith described, but there might be a variety of reasons why it’s done as well.

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  31. 30
    Kelley Bell says:

    I began teaching may daughter the art of Barfy barfing when she was still in diapers.

    The child can critique barfydom like Joan Rivers at the Oscars!

    Make no mistake, this kids self image is not tied to an out of proportion plastic sex symbol in any way shape or form.

    P.S.
    Ive never microwaved a barfy. Is it fun? Maybe I’ll suggest it at our next Girl Scout meeting.

  32. 31
    whyme63 says:

    I thought this passage was well worth taking away from the article…

    “Nairn said many girls saw Barbie as an inanimate object rather than a treasured toy.

    “Whilst for an adult the delight the child felt in breaking, mutilating and torturing their dolls is deeply disturbing, from the child’s point of view they were simply being imaginative in disposing of an excessive commodity in the same way as one might crush cans for recycling,” she said. “

  33. 32
    theorajones says:

    I used to “mutilate” my barbie, but I wasn’t angry or anything.

    It’s just, there was lots of stuff Barbie couldn’t do. And if you tried to make her do that stuff, she got broke.

    I figured out how to bend her knees, but after a few months of bending, they’d usually break. Sometimes metal would come out, or sometimes she’d look like she’d been in a terrible ski accident. And, as a poster said above, barbie was really good at standard splits, but she couldn’t do Russians. I was good at Russian Splits, and I wanted Barbie to do them, too. But her legs would always pop off. So I pulled them off and put them next to her–presto! Barbie was doing a split! Just like me! Also, if you wanted Barbie to stand on her own without leaning against something, one good way to do it was to put something heavy down and then sort of spread her legs around it–she’d grip it and not fall (though she’d list a bit forward or back if you didn’t jam it in properly). This, along with the Russians, put a definite strain on miss Barbie’s hip joints until eventually they wore down to a point where the legs couldn’t be jammed back on (although, of course, one leg usually went before the other. And there began the “pirate Barbie” tales).

    Same for the arms–Barbie could wave for a taxi and do tarzan swings, but she couldn’t hold hands in a circle and spin. So, her arms got pulled off (though far, far less frequently).

    Everyone cuts Babrie’s hair and draws on makeup or other things. The shock is that when you’re done, Barbie doesn’t look as good as you’d thought she would, and she doesn’t go back to the way she was before. But even when you realize that, it’s really hard to not cut Barbie’s hair, because maybe it’ll look cool! And why wouldn’t it grow back?

    I never was mad at Barbie, I never hated Barbie particularly. I liked making clothes for her, mostly because I lost her real clothes, even though I wasn’t very good at it. I actually liked watching my other friends make better clothes. That, to me, was the best part of Barbie–the clothes my friends made with strips of fabric, rubber bands, pipe cleaners, etc.

    But it’s true I never saw Barbie as “real” and having feelings. Unlike my stuffed animals, who definitely got sad when I didn’t play with them enough.

  34. 33
    Terry C says:

    “I was rejecting then, and still reject, that the ideal woman has huge nipple-less tits and no vulva, and a waist that only starvation can acheive as well as permanently deformed feet from the equivalent of three inch heels… effectively an object that is both sexless and inaccessible and simultaneously sexually grotesque. I was rejecting, and still reject, the “Barbie Dream House” and her obsession with clothes and parties and playing, and not a thought in her head. I was rejecting, and still reject, her vapid relationship with an equally de-sexed male doll. Barbie was and is a male designed fantasy of an ideal woman that is so grotesque, vapid and misshapen that it is an almost perfect depiction of misogyny, with the purpose of co-opting little girls into the destruction of their own self-esteem and dreams of success.”

    Remember the talking one they had: “Math is hard!” Yes, let’s encourage girls to be morons.

    Oh, the idea of Barbie came from a doll named “Lili” that German trucks had hanging from their windows. She looked like a whore.

    Some role model.

    Oh, and lighten up, Lilith!