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Inspiring Women… More airbrushed than real

By Jessica Warren

Inspiring women can be found in every aspect of life, and looking around whilst I’m sat at home, I see the hard work my mother and sister put into every aspect of their lives. Inspiration comes in all shapes and forms, whether it’s having a career and raising children, or creating beautiful pieces of art. What is more moving about them is their humanity. They are not airbrushed, perfectionist ideals of themselves, they are very real people who I have seen put blood, sweat and tears (sometimes quite literally) into their hard work.

Women make up 49.55% of the world’s population and yet society deems it necessary to dedicate a singular day in the annual calendar to celebrate women and their achievements. International Women’s day has not long gone, but I ask you this: Today do you feel as proud of women as you did a week or so ago? The very fact that female achievements are celebrated on a sole day raises huge implications for the equality debate within society.

The equality debate has many branches to it, and yet I’d like to focus on children; more specifically, children’s toys. Barbie launched 17 new dolls this month in a poorly thought-out advertising campaign aiming to honour “global role models from diverse backgrounds and fields who are breaking boundaries to inspire the next generation of girls”. The phrase ‘honour’ must be pulled into question when we are disregarding the human aspects of these women. The very flaws that make us human, that make us real women are being erased and sold as airbrushed versions.

When strong women such as Frida Kahlo are whittled down to a highly commercialised piece of plastic, edges smooth, and lacking any form of uniqueness, we must recognise the fundamental flaws with this. Importantly, Kahlo’s family accuse Barbie of misrepresenting the artist, completely overlooking the values she represents and allege that the rights to Kahlo’s image have been stolen, stating the toy company had no right to base an doll on her. Evidently, Barbie need to do more than draw slightly bigger eyebrows on a doll if they want to tackle gender equality.

Taken from their website “From Sheroes to Inspiring Women, meet our latest Barbie role models–all extraordinary women we’ve honoured with a doll in their likeness”. The word ‘sheroes’ is an absolute joke. Do Barbie (and the whole of their marketing team) believe that merging ‘she’ and ‘hero’ into a singular word is clever? It’s not ground-breaking, it’s not inspiring, and it certainly isn’t feminist. By forming this rather ridiculous word, Barbie are inadvertently highlighting the difficulty society has in acknowledging female heroes.

Some may argue that the creation of these 17 dolls will spark conversations around these women and their achievements through history, much as I am doing now. It would be unfair to say it has not sparked this much-needed discussion, yet I wish I could sit here and praise Barbie for their feminist ventures into the toy making industry. Instead, I sit here and condemn their ill-planned publicity stunt. Women in society, whatever their age, have been let down time and time again by female-targeting industries.

Reflecting on International Women’s day, I am proud of the inspiring women in my life. I am glad to know the stories of Frida Kahlo and Amelia Earhart, but I fear that the children playing with these toys will never know the humanity beyond their plastic form. International Women’s day is as important as ever in the fight for equality, let’s make it count. Women aren’t Sheroes, they’re heroes.

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