West Virginia state lawmaker proposes ban on Barbie just before she turns 50

Ban Barbie?

That's no way to say Happy Birthday.

Less than a week before her 50th, the iconic Mattel doll faces what some consider an indecent and silly proposal.

West Virginia Democratic Delegate Jeff Eldridge Tuesday proposed a bill to ban the sale of Barbie and similar dolls that promote physical beauty to the detriment of girls' intellectual and emotional development.

"I just hate the image that we give to our kids that if you're beautiful, you're beautiful and you don't have to be smart," the second-term state lawmaker, who has been an educator and social worker, told West Virginia media Tuesday.

Barbie was banned in Montpelier, Vt., in 2006.

Mattel Inc., which manufacturers Barbie and for months has been promoting events celebrating the fashion icon's upcoming 50th birthday Monday, didn't respond to requests for comment.

However, others believe the proposed bill is a waste of time.

"Are you kidding me? With everything that is wrong in this world and lawmakers are focused on Barbie?" a woman identifying herself as Bobbie Lou commented on a West Virginia television station Web site. "These IDIOTS make me want to move to Canada. Please focus on real issues and leave Barbie alone."

J. Michael August-yniak, a Barbie expert and author of seven Barbie collectors' books, thinks the bill is ridiculous.

"Children should develop their self-esteem from their parents and not blame a toy for that," he said.

"It's a silly way of trying to go after a more fundamental issue," says Karla J. Cunningham, an associate professor of politics at Chatham University. "The underlying issue is a worthy one, but banning Barbie? I don't know if that's a way to address it."

Barbie's materialism, unrealistic body proportions and focus on fashion and beauty have come under fire before, Mr. Augustyniak said. Mattel and other toy makers have introduced dolls with more realistic body shapes in the past, but they've not been successful.

"Little girls want what they want and Barbie has endured for 50 years because they have been able to put their own dreams and ideals on her and I don't see that changing," he said.

Barbie has had more than 100 careers and has promoted exciting and challenging professions requiring intellectual rigor. She's been an astronaut, surgeon and presidential candidate, to name a few.

"And that's long before those were mainstream occupations for women," he said. "In terms of fairness, [Mr. Eldridge] should look at G.I. Joe action figures because they're making boys more aggressive or glorifying war."

Dr. Cunningham believes legislation dealing with self-esteem issues in schools would be more appropriate and thinks the proposed Barbie ban is a bit of a publicity stunt.

Mr. Eldridge, who represents Lincoln County, W.Va., doesn't necessarily disagree. He anticipated being the butt of jokes because of the proposed bill. He couldn't find a single statehouse colleague to sign on to the bill and he doesn't really expect it to pass, he told West Virginia media. He simply wants to draw attention to the larger issue.

"I'd like to send a message to not only our children but parents and educators that let's push education over the importance of beauty."

L.A. Johnson can be reached at ljohnson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3903. First Published March 5, 2009 5:00 AM


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