This isn't the first time that Barbie has teamed up with McDonald's. They've been a regular pair over the years. Last time, Barbie was working at McDonald's. This time, she has different career choices in mind, but she is sending some pretty nasty messages along the way.
What does this Happy Meal Box say?
If you read the fine print on the box, it is about careers. If you just look at the box (which is what most people will do and is all that much of the Happy Meal eating public -- i.e. not yet literate children -- is capable of), you get a different message. You see a little girl of colour dreaming about being one of five almost identical blond, blue-eyed, unrealistically proportioned white women wearing a lot of sparkly pink. Even if you read the big, bold text without getting into the fine print, it is still telling this little girl that if she dreams really big, she can be just like Barbie.
A few years ago, Renee from Womanist Musings wrote about the damage that Barbie dolls do to girls, especially girls of colour:
For any little girl, a Barbie Doll is a complicated gift because it is so completely unrepresentative of female bodies. Barbie is one of the mothers of negative body images. This is compounded when the child in question is Black. When a Black girl is given a Black doll with Eurocentric features and straight hair, what does it teach her but that she is not beautiful. Because beauty is one of the few sites of female power this can be extremely damaging.
She goes on to talk about an initiative to re-tool Barbie dolls with black features, instead of just taking a white Barbie and painting it black (as Mattel has done with the existing black Barbie).
These identical and unrealistically "beautiful" (in quotation marks because it is not my definition of beauty) Barbie dolls shown in a variety of different careers also send a very specific message to girls. I wrote about this at Care2.com after attending the Women's World conference in Ottawa in a post called Are Women Groomed to Choose Oppression?:
Nathalie Elaine Meza Garcia, a political scientist from Colombia, talked about Barbie. Her presentation, Imperceptible Fundamentalisms: The Perfect Woman and the Multiple Roles of Barbie, examined the ways in which Barbie tries to break away from the patriarchy while still leaving her oppressed. The Barbie slogan, “We Girls Can Do Anything” is intended to be a feminist slogan. However, there is a hidden inconsistency in this. Women are able to enter into new spaces and break glass ceilings, but they still have to be beautiful, nurturing mothers, good homemakers, and doting wives. Essentially, women have demanded the right to do anything that men can do, but they have not shed any of their old roles, duties or subjugation in doing so.
For me, this new Happy Meal box is one more reason not to take my children to McDonald's. But what message is it sending to the thousands of children who will be staring at this box as they munch on their fries (or their apple slices)? How will those children both internalize that message and share that message with the rest of society? One of the things I am increasingly aware of is how peer influences affect our children and how the negative messages that other children receive in their homes and environments creep into our lives and impact our children too.
As a society, we need to demand better. Not just for our own kids, but for everyone's kids.
Note: The photo was taken by Sarah. She has generously offered to make it available for sharing. I've put it on my flickr account with a creative commons licence for that purpose. Please feel free to share on your own blogs.