Barbie Controversies and Obsessions

The struggle to look thin and beautiful has impacted girls and women for decades. Eating disorder specialists have claimed anorexia became more prevalent after the introduction of the Barbie Doll popularized in the 60’s and 70’s concurrent to the advent of the tall anorexic super model, led by Twiggy, featured in all the top fashion magazines. These cultural phenomena, along with fashion trends which liberated a woman’s body from the confines of clothing, e.g., the mini and micro mini skirts and bikinis, led insecure and vulnerable girls and women to aim for unrealistic twig thin limbs. The pressure to look like a Barbie and be nothing less than Barbie perfect has accelerated through every decade. The Karen Carpenter Barbie Movie is a haunting elegy to one of the early victims who died from complications caused by anorexia, fueled by laxative overdoses, Karen Carpenter, the pop singer from the brother sister duo, The Carpenters. Karen’s life and death was illustrated in an intriguing film, one of the first films to feature Barbie Dolls as characters, titled “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story”. As the film progressed, the filmmaker even shaved the vinyl doll depicting Karen Carpenter… thinner and thinner.

The Karen Carpenter Barbie Movie reenacts the lives of Richard Carpenter and his sister Karen Carpenter along with relatives and record executives. On retrospect, not only the filmmaker, Todd Haynes, but others also felt her anorexia and death were a direct effect from pressure of those around her including the media, pressing her to be thin and glamorous, instead of keeping her natural curvy figure. The film is shot in a grainy black and white style which made it very eerie and disturbing. The film was never released as a feature, because neither Richard Carpenter nor Mattel would have signed off on music or other proprietary rights. The VHS version was taken off of video store shelves in 1990 when the director lost a copyright battle with Richard Carpenter. This film is considered one of the top cult hits in the past three decades. And its message from the 80’s still rings true into today’s culture as many more women fall victim to the stress and false allure of being too thin.

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