Barbie, Desire, and the Grand Rapids Press

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Grand Rapids Press Editorial Staff,

I write to express my extreme disappointment in the editing approach that was utilized on my Your Life Barbie contribution printed on Monday, March 9. While I certainly understand the need to whittle down contributions due to length requirements and other such justifiable factors, the editing job on my piece reads more like censorship and misrepresentation than an appropriate slimming down of a reader contribution.

Deeming my piece inappropriate for the feature would have been an understandable and responsible decision- editing it down until it reads as very different piece and publishing it next to my name is extremely irresponsible and borderline unethical.

My piece clearly juxtaposed my own Barbie experiences with the shifting and symbolic role that Barbie has played in the 1980’s through today. Unfortunately, almost every mention of Barbie’s potentially negative social implications was omitted, leaving very little of the intent or integrity of the original composition. In the absence of the developed critique, your editing job reduced a thoughtful social analysis to an ill-composed commentary that was a shadow of its original intention. I do not find this to be responsible editing on behalf of the press and I request a republication of my piece that preserves the overall integrity of the contribution.

I look forward to hearing from you regarding this matter as soon as possible.

-Mindy Holohan

Original GR Press Submission:

When I think of Barbie, the first feeling that comes to mind is desire. I distinctly remember the shape of her rectangular packaging and the allure of her department store window arrangement. Surrounded by a constellation of coveted accessories strung up behind that malleable plastic window, Barbie always tapped into some kind of longing. I recall the early grown up thrill of slipping on her stilettos and the satisfaction of snapping a form fitting skirt around the convex curve of her waist. Her very being seemed an access point for the secrets of femininity and the seductive promise of perfection. Whether the appeal of the adult world or a type of imaginary alter ego, she was a way to explore themes that were outside of the range of my middle class childhood experience.

Our relationship began well into Barbie’s third decade when she was already an established fixture in the American girl experience. For a girl of the 1980’s, Barbie was an icon, far removed from her debutante years of my mom’s childhood. While the volume of Barbie-centric products paled in comparison to what exists today, she was not just a toy. Barbie now had toy section aisles reserved exclusively for her. Barbie was on socks and sweatshirts and paper plates and party hats. Barbie was a brand.

Barbie’s growing circle of friends and cache of fabulous plastic trimmings compelled me to keep coming back and to add new items to the birthday and Christmas lists. Through the years her opulence increased as well. Every Saturday morning I was introduced to yet another must have addition to her sprawling estate. Barbie houses turned to Barbie mansions and Barbie cars morphed into stretch limos with hot tubs and televisions. Echoing the themes of a political and business environment of deregulation and increased programming and advertising targeting children, Barbie introduced an almost insatiable appetite for more.

Barbie survived a number of incarnations at our house moving from revered gift and genuine object of pretend play to prop, and ultimately, fading star falling completely out of favor. Any chance she stood as a collector’s item disappeared with the snip of scissors and the dye of markers as my sister and I decided a punk rock look might be more fitting for her and her posse of friends.

Decades later however, I find that Barbie has certainly not left the building. To the contrary, she owns the whole block. I see her everywhere. She seems to be the form from which the cookie cutter look of teen idols is cast. I imagine plastic surgeons singing her praises as they enjoy the biggest increase in selective surgeries ever. I feel her influence when little boys won’t touch the color pink. How do you draw a sunset without pink? What started as a toy has turned into a lifestyle, a persona and identity that can be (and is) bought and sold. I have to admit that Barbie may even hold some prime real estate in me; a woman who has proudly birthed and breastfed three children. I admit to looking in dismay at the residual stretchmarks and bodily changes that have accompanied the most monumental experiences of my life and comparing my strong experienced body to some long ago formed version of the impossible.

My thoughts of Barbie in her fiftieth year find me yet again navigating a strong feeling of desire but with a drastically different focus. I observe that Barbie today looks more like a hypersexed Bratz doll than anything else. I note that the Barbie Dallas Cowboy set just earned the TOADY (Toys Oppresive And Destructive to Young children) award from the national Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. I find that in 2009, my desire is to stay as far away from the girl as possible.

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Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org

1 thought on “Barbie, Desire, and the Grand Rapids Press”

  1. @Mindy: Your experience with the Press and their hatchet-job editing matches my own. They clearly feel that they “own” any contributed piece and can use it in any way they please. And so often, they are pleased to use better writing than that which comes from their staff writers, while editing the message of a piece beyond recognition. My experiences include a piece on Cuban artists from which all political commentary (my own and theirs) was removed, and a review of a book which I panned and they inexplicably turned into a glowing and positive review instead. Both pieces had my name on them.

    Good luck receiving any explanation–and if you do get one, I predict it will not be a satisfactory one! Meanwhile, congratulations on your beautifully written and well-thought-out Barbie essay. Thanks for letting us see it as it was intended.

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