Becky The Independent

When people think of Barbie dolls, they immediately envision the blonde-haired, blue eyed, tanned, high heeled figure that has dominated the toy market since 1959. Barbie’s look has changed since she first stepped onto the public scene and drastically evolved from the ‘fierce’ looking, high eyebrow arched doll she first was to the more hip, trendy, kind-looking doll she is today. However every doll has its faults, its imperfections. With as much as Barbie has going for her, one would think she is the epitome of independence. She has had every job imaginable, great friends and family, numerous houses and cars and yet, for all her ability, Barbie lacks the ability to stand upright on her own two feet! Well now, Mattel couldn’t have that. In the way of addressing disability across culture Mattel finally gave Barbie her independence and thus Share-A-Smile Becky was born. She is stylish, beautiful and able to stay upright without the help of a stand or a person. How does she do it? They gave her, her very own wheelchair. In making Share-A-Smile Becky, Mattel sought to address the want of little girls, and all children in general, in wheelchairs and with disabilities in general to show that everyone, no matter what ability or disability they may have they are still equal, and in doing so, they made Share-A-Smile Becky, THE most independent doll to be manufactured.

            Share-A-Smile Becky first came onto the scene May 1997 and was said to have received a rather warm reception. Lisa McKendall, a spokesperson for Mattel ‘said thousands have been sold.’ “In most places it is selling out the minute it hits the shelves.” [i] However, Becky had to be recalled soon after she was released because, just like with real life individuals in wheelchairs, she had problems maneuvering around Barbie’s home. The elevator wasn’t wide enough for her wheelchair to fit onto so she couldn’t go upstairs and the door to the house was also to narrow for her to roll through. She faced the problems many other kids in wheelchairs faced which made her even more realistic to children and parents alike. A month after she was recalled, Mattel introduced a wheelchair accessible Barbie house with ‘a wider front door and no steps or stairs.’[ii]

            Share-A-Smile Becky sits upright in her wheelchair and she even has flat feet ‘(right angled) so she is able to stand on her own.’[iii] On the back of the box she comes in she’s featured with Barbie and Christie (African American Barbie), who stand on either side of her while she sits in her wheelchair in between them. Everybody knows Barbie and Christie cannot stand up on their own, which means their held up by string or they’re using their stands which have been edited out of the picture. Their shoes don’t even touch the ground because of the way their feet are arched. If taken into account, Barbie is the one with the true disability. For someone so able-bodied she can’t even stand up by herself. She has severe high arches, a condition known as pes cavus[iv], and so she can’t support her own body weight and her knees are always bent in whatever pose she is seen in, even when sitting down. Her legs are unable to assume a straight position and even with the Barbie whose legs are able to snap in different directions, she falls right over unless her legs are spread wide with both knees bent (both inward, which then makes her ‘bow-legged’ or medically known as genu varum[v]) and even then, she can only stay in that position for a short amount of time (seconds) before she falls over. Becky’s shoes (and feet) are flat so that, if desired, she can be taken from her wheelchair and made to stand on her own two feet.

            Becky, as defined by the medical/charity model, with her flat feet and wheelchair bound body should be happy that she was even considered an idea right? Wrong. Not only is she the type of doll ‘disabled children can admire but able-bodied children also’[vi] because not only was she the high school head photographer but an alternate form of her, Paralympic Becky, is a gold medal athlete. It’s pretty fair to say in all respects that she’s the type of doll who gives Barbie a ‘run’ for her money. It was also pretty ironic the word choice used by Mattel when describing Share-A-Smile Becky as they consider her a ‘role model for children of differing abilities’ instead of saying ‘differing disabilities’ (Barbie, 2000). Sadly however, Share-A-Smile Becky is no longer in production as she was only introduced for the 1997 season. Mattel has expressed that they might be considering producing another doll in a wheelchair but it is expressed as an idea that is ‘up in the air’.

Works Cited

        i.            The Associated Press. “Barbie’s Disabled Friend Can’t Fit”. University of Washington/Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology, section 3. 2002. U of   Washington DO-IT. Web. 19 Apr. 2010.

      ii.            The Associated Press. “Barbie’s Disabled Friend Can’t Fit”. University of Washington/Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology, section 3. 2002. U of  Washington DO-IT. Web. 19 Apr. 2010.

    iii.            Westbrook, Mary. “Dolls with Disabilities”. Polio Particles- Issue 4. 2000. Post-Polio Network (NSW) Inc Newsletter. Web. 19 Apr. 2010.

    iv.            Wikipedia. “Pes cavus”. Wikipedia. 2010. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 19  Apr. 2010.

      v.            Wikipedia. “Genu varum”. Wikipedia. 2010. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 19 Apr. 2010.

    vi.            Seahurst, Joanne Lawrence. “Share A Smile Becky—Cheers for Doll Maker Willing to Teach Children Understanding of Empathy”. The Seattle Times. 1997. The Seattle Times Company. Web. 19 Apr. 2010.

Lanzarini, Lisa, ed. Barbie: A Visual Guide To The Ultimate Fashion Doll. New York: Dorling     Kindersley Inc, 2000. Print.


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13 thoughts on “Becky The Independent

  1. Skyler,

    I absolutely agree with you that it is Barbie that actually has the disability. Like you stated, she is unable to stand on her own, bow-legged when she does & the arches of her feet do not even touch the ground. With the extremely wide variety of Barbie dolls created, they fit almost every young girl’s personality and what they’re interested in. So when Mattel finally came out with Share-a-Smile Becky, it gave young girls with disabilities a chance to have a doll that fit their lives. Becky was made with flat feet, which therefore (like you stated) allows her to stand up on her own if she wishes. It is truly Barbie with the disability considering Becky is more able-bodied in a sense compared to Barbie. You did a great job of going into detail with the differences between the two dolls & showing that Becky is not so disabled compared to the others.

  2. Skyler,
    This blog had me laughing out loud. Your witty tone and insightful writing really bring Becky’s story to life. I enjoyed the mix of manufacturing history coupled with your own observations. You make an excellent point in noticing that Barbie cannot even stand on her own two feet, yet she has somehow passed through the interview process for nearly every job/career on the planet. I think it would be interesting to discuss the obviously unrealistic proportions of Barbie dolls and the stress that those expectations placed upon young girls. I think that her tiny waist and impossibly long legs only add to the list of features that present her as the doll with the disability.
    I found it really strange that Mattel would allow Becky to stand on her own two feet even though she is in a wheelchair and is meant to be played with as though she suffers from a disability. I see this as a really positive portrayal of disability. Looking at Becky as being closer to an able-bodied ideal really highlights the irony of Barbie’s popularity. Does Barbie mean disability is popular? (a bit far-fetched but you never know ) Your blog was great and I would be interested to read more if you ever decide to expand upon your initial points. Any thoughts on the stereotypes associated with Barbie herself that you didn’t address in your blog? It would be neat to look at the way in which Barbie’s “disabled” body reflects the medical and social model, especially considering her many prominent job holdings in the medical field? I wonder what Ken thinks…

    Dan Nehring

  3. This was a very interesting blog, especially the point that Barbie is the disabled one. It would be interesting to see how children without disabilities would play with Share-A-Smile Becky if they came in contact with one. Another interesting thing was that she was not able to fit through the doorways of the Barbie house, and the wheelchair was difficult to move around. That just goes to show, that people who do not have a disability do not pay attention the the small details that people that are in wheelchairs must face everyday.

  4. Amazing blog. True and humorous at the same time. Barbie is disabled! Who would have suspected? It is really interesting that Becky has flat feet and can stand but Barbie doesn’t. I also find it interesting that the had to recall Becky because the house wasn’t accessible for her. The creators didn’t even think about that when making her, which is a true issue in society with so many places being wheelchair inaccessible.

  5. It certainly is a new way to look at barbie. I allways considered Barbie to have disabilities but not in that way. She is missing parts, if you know what I mean. If she can’t go to the bathroom one would think she would come with her own colostomy bad seperatly. Not to mention she is a bit of a perfectionist. Perfectly proportinate, which leads me to believe that she has unhuman qualities. No human is that way, well unless she had poor self-esteem and got plastic surgery. It shows how society dosen’t think things through so well sometimes. You certainly had a vrey creative way to incorporate things into your blogg. Was a very good and informative read.
    Thanks,
    Jen

  6. Skyler,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog. I thought your point was very interesting about how not only disabled children, but also able-bodied children can look up to “Share a smile Becky” because she is more of a “true” role model than Barbie will ever be. “Share a smile Becky” represents a picture of reality. She represents the image of how the majority of society is disabled in form or another. Some disabilities are more noticeable than others, but we all have a disability.

  7. I love the ironies you point out. That a barbie that is designed to be in a wheelchair is the only one that can actually stand on her own is very interesting. And, as it is the case in society (where people are not recalled), the real adjustment that needed to be made after the recall was to the Barbie House, and not the doll or chair. It is like the Americans With Disabilities Act, which required building, restrooms, etc to be wheelchair accessible, for Barbie.

  8. Skyler,

    Great post, it made me laugh as well as reconsider my notions of the “normal” barbie. In fact, it also made me remember a toy my sister once had while her and I were growing up. She was always a big fan of the “American Girl Dolls” and one christmas she got some sort of accessory pack that contained both rollerblades and a wheelchair. At the time it was a big joke in my family about how her doll would get in a rollerblade accident and need to be in a wheelchair for a few weeks. Looking back on it that was probably my earliest memories of a wheelchair, and I was taught that they were only temporary inconveniences to people that were hurt. While I eventually learned more about the subject, I can see that with all the value placed on “educational” toys today, having a doll that is in a wheelchair can be a lesson in itself. As you stated, both Becky and Barbie were equal, except one came with a wheelchair while the other couldnt stand up by herself. I think having more toys like Becky could really help teach kids at a young age all about people in wheelchairs, and how they are no different than anyone else.

    -Jake Miller

  9. Skyler,
    This blog was so much fun to read. I really enjoyed the style and tone that you used while writing it. You point out so many ironies about Mattel, Barbie, and society’s reaction to the introduction of “Becky.” You really did your research for this and it shows. I am happy that Barbie is expanding the variety because it is important to introduce children to more than one model of how society works. Thank you for the enjoyable blog.
    -Cheryl Pakidis

  10. Skyler,
    Your blog was very enjoyable to read. I love how you pointed out that the “normal” barbie cannot even stand on her own. Barbie, who is supposed to be “perfect” even has her faults. Barbie’s imperfections can be paralleled to the society’s false perspective that people with disabilities need to be fixed.

  11. Skyler,
    I really enjoyed reading this blog. It was so intightful and refreshing! I love the topic and how you made it your own. I would have never thought to make that kind of assumption. When you first told me you were doing the Share-a-Smile Becky Doll topic i thought that her production would be seen as sad and pathetic, but you shed her in such a different ligtht. AWESOME blog!!

  12. Skyler,
    I like your idea that it is actually the “normal” Barbie who is the one that is disabled showing how a person with this kind of body would not even be able to function. I also believe there have even been some anatomical tests done on Barbie to see what she would look like as a full sized woman and the results showed that a woman with this body type would fall over from the disproportionate weight of their breasts. This shows how the societal ideal is not even something that could actually exist in nature. This shows how our ideal of the perfect is a product of our imagination.

  13. Sky,

    I like that you used Share-A-Smile Becky for your blog considering me and Ashley Workman did our final presentation on her. I know now that Becky was made for the un Barbie like people on this planet whether. I applaud Mattel for trying to coneptualize an unorthadox figure like Becky. She appeals to different types of women. However, I wish Mattel would have made Becky and her surroundings more accessible to her. If we as a human race can accomodate to the disabled then so can Mattel and Barbie. This will teach young girls to open up their little girl mind even more and expose them and teach them that not everyone is shaped like Barbie or is like Becky either. Girls come in all shapes and sizes and you must love your fellow sister now matter what she looks like.

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