The Inevitable: Yoga Teacher Barbie
Barbie dolls: maligned for their tyranny of impossible
proportions, yet beloved by many, these
ubiquitous icons of American culture have reflected the popular Zeitgeist for
decades. When first created, the dolls sported demure fashions with their
eyes glancing sideways in a gesture of deference. In 1971, the eyes were
adjusted to look forwards, mirroring an increasingly direct female populace. In
2009, “Totally Tattoos Barbie” launched to the outcry of parents and experts.
And now, as part of a line of Barbies exclusive to Target stores, Yoga
Teacher Barbie has launched, reflecting the massive recent increase in yoga
practice in the US population.
Created by Ruth Handler in 1959 for Mattel, Barbie was
inspired by the German
adult novelty doll, Lilli. Since her creation she’s courted controversy,
initially due to her generous breasts and tiny waist, but in following decades
from scholars, researchers, and children’s experts who caution that Barbie’s
homogenous appearance may foster unrealistic and damaging appearance norms. The
concern? That Barbie’s singularly inaccessible façade, coupled with versions of
the doll that comment “Math class is tough!” and include a booklet on weight
loss tips advising, “don’t eat!” (circa 1963) or a bathroom scale permanently
set at 110 pounds (c. 1965), will negatively
impact or pigeonhole girls’ development.
Despite these missteps, Barbie has been at the forefront of
promoting women’s careers outside the Dream House. In 2010, Mattel conducted an
online vote to choose two Barbies for the series, with the aim to “ignite
a national movement to inspire girls.” The winners? A news anchor and
computer engineer (a far cry from the 1997 Barbie proclaiming “Math class is
Yoga Teacher Barbie has lit
up the blogosphere. For some, it’s “just a doll!” while for others, it’s an
exercise in projective orchestration, an easy target for how far yoga has
diverged from its spiritual and philosophical roots and seamlessly blended with
western consumer norms. Barbie is beautiful, if “plastic” and uninteresting;
her bendiness, blondness, and canine companion hearken more to Paris Hilton
than most western yogis. Yoga expert, Kathryn Budig, saw little harm in Yoga Teacher Barbie but commented that she is “a bit done up for yoga…That make-up is gonna run straight down her face after 5 sun salutations!”
While many find Yoga Teacher Barbie triggering, yoga’s
stereotypical spokespersons in most media outlets—tanned, lithe, gymnastic,
captured in exotic locales around the globe—are not much different. Sure they
aren’t portrayed doing yoga in their pajamas (YT Barbie’s surprisingly chaste
attire), but neither are they representative of most yoga practitioners.
Thus, while Yoga Teacher Barbie may be triggering for the
materialist, narcissistic, appearance-obsessed schema she represents for some,
these are aspirational values for our culture, and frequently draw yoga
practitioners with promises of “yoga butt” and eternally youthful appearance
who might not otherwise practice. In the end, of course, Barbie is just a doll.
Ultimately, more awareness of and exposure to yoga is a good thing, although we
can hope that one day yoga has more diverse and interesting spokespersons.
What are your thoughts on Yoga Teacher Barbie? If you were a
yoga Barbie, what would you look like?