Doll, by Maria Teresa Hart

I read this thanks to NetGalley; it’s out in November.

Is this book responsible for me having the only two lines that I know of “Barbie and the Rockers” stuck in my head for days? Why yes it is. And no, I haven’t forgiven the author for that yet.

I did have a few Barbies as a child; I was deprived of a Cabbage Patch kid; and I had a bridal doll, inherited from my mother, with whom I never played – she was really for looking at rather than anything else. I was probably more interested in playing with the My Little Ponies, I think – hair long enough to do interesting plaits with – but I don’t remember that well. I guess I played a bit with them? But dolls held little really fascination for me. This book, though, is truly fascinating – it’s a worthy addition to the Object Lessons set.

Hart does a lot in a few short pages. She explores the history of dolls as objects – their uses and their manufacture; she discusses their roles in reinforcing gender norms for girls and women, as well as exploring the realities of how little girls do actually play with their Barbies (is it a surprise these days to anyone to learn that Barbies tend to have a great deal of sex?). She looks at the racial aspects – the first black Barbie was a sidekick, and it took ages for non-white Barbies to have any sort of equal billing, and they’re usually still solitary examples of a skin colour rather than being the whole range of things like white-skinned Barbie is allowed to be.

Did I know that Sleepover Barbie came with miniature scales and a teeny book called “How to Lose Weight”, which recommends only “Don’t eat”? Heck no I didn’t. This is the stuff of nightmares… and makes me wonder if I was doing sleepovers all wrong (or, more likely, all right).
I also didn’t know about BINA48, “modelled after the real human being Bina Aspen, a Black woman who was married to Martine Rothblatt, a prominent CEO in there biotech industry. BINA48 was created using Aspen’s memories” p26) and this is ALSO the stuff of nightmares, in my opinion. Hart goes into a discussion of avatars as part of the doll-world, which is intriguing, as well as androids.

Another spectacular part of this series. So much packed into such a small package, and yet so immensely readable as well.

Still a bit cranky about the Barbie song though.

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