Back in 2012, Barbie created its first President Barbie doll. She wore a figure-hugging pink skirt suit, she was young and vibrant, and she had a Chihuahua security guard, because even Madam President needs to be adorable and have a dog in a three-piece suit to take a bullet for her.
This year, Barbie has come out with President Barbie 2.0, and this time she’s got a Vice President Barbie along for the ride. Barbie has an all-female presidential ticket, and this time one of them is even wearing pants.
The new President and Vice President Barbies — which are only sold in pairs (a move I think is pretty kick-ass) — are meant to inspire young girls to be leaders. They are meant to allow girls to dream as big as the presidency of the United States.
And while I love that the folks behind Barbie made this move and applaud them for it, it’s more of a symbolic success. When I look at these dolls, what slaps me in the face first is their unrealistic youth and attractiveness. I appreciate the gesture of having two powerful women represented among their Fashionista and Endless Hair Princess lines, but I think it only highlights the problems we have with our cultural obsession with youth and beauty. Sure, one of the dolls wears pants and glasses, but the product description specifies that she is the vice president, not the president. I mean, come on, man.
These dolls look like a pair of sorority sisters campaigning for student government, not a pair of lifelong public servants ready to lead the most powerful nation on Earth. They look like Melania Trump, not Hillary Clinton. This reaction may provoke some eye rolls and cries of “nothing will ever satisfy feminists,” but let’s think about who it is that Mattel is trying to reach with this product.
We have seen that young women today aren’t particularly impressed by the fact that Hillary Clinton may be our first female president, because they have been raised to think that’s a perfectly normal and achievable goal. Girls who are at the age where they are playing with Barbies will think nothing of it — they’ve had the first black president for most of their lives and the first female candidate, and that’s all they’ve ever known. It’s proper that Barbie makes a presidential doll, and it’s a great step, but it means more to those of us who were born in the ’70s and see this as a world-changing event. We’re thrilled to see President Barbie, but our daughters say, so what?
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So what are we telling them? They see a female presidential candidate on TV, but what is the difference that they may notice and that we definitely do? It’s that these dolls don’t look like Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren. They’re the new presidential ticket, but younger and prettier. That’s what’s being presented to girls as the fantasy.
Now, no one has ever accused Barbie of being realistic, and we don’t expect this of them. But these dolls do underline our obsession with youth and physical attractiveness, even at the most powerful position in the world. We’re not asking for an elderly Barbie who comes with adult diapers and an expired driver’s license, but would it kill us to have a few streaks of gray in her hair? Or maybe have her appear to be somewhere over the age of 22? It doesn’t help to have a line of presidential dolls if girls look at them and see the job as attainable but still feel shut out because of the dolls’ appearances.