In the Netflix documentary “Tiny Shoulders,”- we see how Mattel reimagined Barbie’s unattainable likeness. We also hear from many women who admit that this iconic doll was their original object of what I call ‘Compare and Despair.’ She was beautiful, impossibly proportioned, impeccably dressed and successful. These women, like millions of young girls today, aspired to look like their Barbie dolls. When they couldn’t, a lifelong struggle of Compare and Despair began.
The subtle and not-so-subtle comparison chatter starts early. Along with all of the oohing and ahhing surrounding a new birth, there are also numerous comments about the labor and delivery experience as well as size, weight, and the resemblance to maternal or paternal family members.
This builds as children enter preschool. New parents are peppered with questions about sleep training, walking readiness, and toilet training. Then competitive inquiries escalate to academic readiness. Does she know her letters and numbers, is she able to read? I won’t even go into the pressure-filled comparisons when applying for private school. For those of you who have done it, you know it’s shockingly fierce, not for the thin-skinned. Friends who have navigated this journey report that it can rattle the confidence of even the most secure parents, as well as their children.
Comparing yourself to others is a normal human phenomenon. We do it all the time. We measure ourselves against others at our same age and stage of life. We try to ascertain how we stack up against our colleagues in knowledge, abilities, and compensation, and we often reflect on the differences between our past and present selves. These are all great ways to calibrate our lives. They serve as powerful motivators to continue doing well and pushing us to improve. Remember to value your own unique journey apart from anyone else’s.
Confession: I was never a “Barbie Girl.” I preferred sports and stuffed animals to dolls. Barbie seemed, well, too girly. But, that didn’t stop me from loving the Holiday Barbies I got years later as a thank-you from Mattel for coaching their executives.
So while I was not an acolyte, I am an admirer of Barbie’s inventor, Ruth Handler. She created an adult female doll who was happy, single, career-driven, and successful. Handler built her iconic brand into a hugely successful business throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, a time of extreme sexism in the business world. Investigations into fraud and false reporting to the Securities and Exchange Committee forced her to resign as Mattel’s CEO in 1975.
Handler rebounded from that, and a modified radical mastectomy, and launched Ruthton Corp, another hugely successful company that manufactured a more realistic prosthetic for women undergoing a mastectomy. She considered her prosthetics, not Barbie, her greatest achievement.
Like Handler, Greta Gerwig is succeeding mightily in a man’s world. Her films have garnered both critical and financial success, and Barbie, her latest directorial achievement, is now the highest-grossing film of 2023. For me, the movie is a wonderful combination of light and serious, sending up patriarchal power with strong feminist messages. Anyone who thinks that “Barbie” is merely “film fluff,” take a look at America Ferrara’s brilliant monologue about the female dilemma. It is anything but fluff, and women everywhere relate.
Whatever your feelings are about Barbie, she is an undeniable icon who continues to bring a lot of joy to children and adults alike. This month, I salute Ruth, Greta, and Barbie as absolutely UNSTOPPABLE.
Do you have an UNSTOPPABLE woman you’d like us to showcase in an upcoming newsletter? EMAIL ME your suggestions.
Comparing yourself too much or obsessively to others is destructive to your psychological and physical well-being. I call this Compare & Despair. You know you are in this toxic cycle when you frequently feel less than in light of others’ achievements, find it hard to congratulate others on their successes, or worse, sabotage their efforts. Have you ever been unable to start a project because you worry that someone can do it better? Stop your Compare & Despair cycle with my suggestions below.