Now That Barbie Has A New Body, Will Hip-Hop Stop Glorifying Injections?
The relationship between pop culture and body image is decades old, but with Hip-Hop’s unmatched global dominance in every realm of life, there is a need for a conversation about how images portrayed by or celebrated in the music affect the way people – mostly women – feel about their bodies. With influence in art, dance, fashion, film, language, television, and more, one would be remiss to ignore how much of today’s conception of the ideal body shape is curated by tastemakers in Hip-Hop culture. Whereas the ’90s (and other decades) more prominently featured very thin women in advertising campaigns, high fashion, and entertainment, today’s landscape has reflected a wider appreciation for curvy women. One need look no further than the ‘body positive’ movement across social media platforms like Instagram to realize the sweeping changing of the guards; before the days of social media, women of different sizes suffered from much lower visibility, but with the advent of hashtags and similar tools, a worldwide community based on the embrace of all kinds of body types has emerged and it too is beginning to affect all realms of popular culture, including the world of Barbie.
While certainly not the only community with a long-standing history of appreciating a woman’s curves, Hip-Hop is undoubtedly a key player in the increased frequency with which we see “plus size” women in media. More substantive than simply casting voluptuous women in its music videos, Hip-Hop has created a space in which not being a size 0 (or 3, or 9, or any size) is not only okay, but in many cases the preferred size. However, this trend is nothing new. Women have been changing their bodies for centuries, and while men most certainly suffer from issues related to body image, there is no arguing that by and large, women are the ones who are expected to adhere to the ideals set forth by the media and society. And so there exists today an interesting dichotomy; one the one hand, Hip-Hop has long suffered from criticism of its portrayal of women, particularly in videos; and yet, it is precisely these images promoting the acceptance of women who don’t look like traditional concepts of beauty in the past. But, as with most human concepts, the idea of beauty is nuanced and while there is room to argue that music videos and song lyrics degrade some and idolize other body types, there is little room to dispute that celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj reflect society’s changing views about the “best” kind of body. And, ever since Nicki Minaj got her own Barbie doll a few years ago, the relationship between the iconic doll and Hip-Hop became stronger than ever.
For years, the Mattel company has seen the brunt of much criticism, much of which is directed towards the internationally famous Barbie doll. For decades, the brand has embodied the whimsy of girlhood, and as the times have changed, so did she. In the many decades since her 1959 debut, she has taken on many personas, taking part in social and cultural revolutions along the way. Her brand has expanded beyond her doll form, with merchandise, apparel, films, books, apps, and plenty of media attention. She took on several different careers, becoming a doctor, teacher, astronaut, a scientist, and architect, and a whole host of others. There’s Holiday Barbie, Black Barbie (who debuted in 1980), Golden Dream Barbie, Urban Jungle Barbie, Star Trek Barbie…there’s a Barbie for nearly every manifestation possible. However, one thing which never changed about her were her measurements. The general consensus is that Barbie’s original measurements not only didn’t reflect the average woman’s size, but were in fact humanly impossible. Most of the numbers suggest that, if human, Barbie would be an insane 39-18-33, a waist size so small that a living person with similar measurements would not only look unnatural, but could suffer from serious health issues. Needless to say, many parents and other critics scolded the toy company for popularizing such an idealistic view of the human body for millions of children around the world, but progress in that department was slow.
However, last week it was announced that Barbie dolls will now come in several different sizes, hair types, and skin colors. Adding a more racially diverse lineup of dolls isn’t new, but the racial homogeneity of the brand through the eras is painfully evident (it should be pointed out that the new line of Barbies does not include representations of any Asian, Latino, or indigenous race). What really set the internet ablaze was the addition of the “petite,” “tall,” and “curvy,” with much of the discussion centered around the latter. Featuring noticeably wider hips, a thicker waist, and curvier frame overall, the Curvy Barbies will likely become the favorite doll for millions of children around the world whose own – and perhaps even more importantly, whose parents – values of self-image include an appreciation for more realistic reflections of a woman’s figure. However, there will always be instances when the realistic reflections are morphed by the use of plastic surgery and other forms of body enhancement by those who wield a tremendous deal of influence over young girls. Nicki Minaj, who famously refers to herself as Barbie and posed like one on the cover of her 2010 album Pink Friday, sports a frame that does not at all reflect the shapes and sizes of the vast majority of girls and women in the world. How much of her physique was purchased is not known, but such information would not negate her image as being both symptomatic of and a cause for a rise in elective procedures like fat injections. Butt injections have spiked over the last few years, with the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons reporting 21,000 such procedures in 2014. And while plenty of women idealized in Hip-Hop culture sport fully natural curves, as such ideals become more and more prevalent throughout society, it follows that more and more women are likely to pursue such ideals through any means necessary, even if it means risking their health.
Now that Barbie has taken note of the diverse spectrum of naturally curvy body types of girls and women everywhere, does Hip-Hop have a responsibility to discourage women from altering their bodies through the use of plastic surgery and other unnatural means? The new Barbie dolls are certainly slimmer and more idealized in shape than the average woman, so one could certainly argue that Barbie isn’t reflecting anything other than the slightest change in weight, but if the world’s most iconic doll can finally address its shortcomings in terms of its celebration of a woman’s natural size, can’t the world’s most influential culture do so, as well? How can we celebrate the diversity of women’s shapes while also highlighting the celebration of natural beauty, regardless of her measurements?