“Eurgh! This doll’s fat!” Those were the words of my five-year-old daughter and seven-year-old niece on encountering the Fashionistas range of new-size Barbies in a toyshop this weekend. To describe these dolls as “plus size” would be an exaggeration. But, given the emaciated state of regular Barbies, I can see what the fuss is about. These dolls look normal – and normal, in a Barbie context, looks decidedly weird.
I have to act. “See these Barbies,” I say, pointing at the more traditional ones. “They are really hungry. They haven’t had enough to eat. But these new Barbies” – I hold up a Fashionista – “feel much better. They’ve got strong legs, see?”
“Ohhhh,” one of them nods. I realise my explanation is not perfect: I don’t want these two telling skinnier children in the playground that they’re malnourished. But given that traditional Barbies represent the body shape of 1 in 100,000 real-life women, have a waist size 20cm smaller than a group of anorexia sufferers, and would have insufficient body fat to menstruate, I’ll take my chances.
There is no ideal way to counter the messages these impressionable young girls are absorbing about body image. I welcome the fact that Barbies now come in four body types and seven skin tones, and wear their hair in braids or afros. Beyoncé’s stylist, Marni Senofonte, who designed those dolls, says: “I want a girl who is not necessarily small to say: ‘OK, I could wear a crop top, and I could wear jeans with big holes in and fishnets underneath it, and I am cute.’”
That’s great. But let’s not forget that the legacy of old Barbie – who in 1963 was released with a book entitled How to Lose Weight – looms large. So much so that when a five and seven year old – neither of whom have yet graduated on to being critical of their own bodies, thankfully – see a doll with a normal figure, their initial reaction was disgust.
The small world of Brexit
There has been plenty of debate about the estimated rise in hate crime since the EU referendum, which ranges from 40% to 100%. But less often discussed is the impact of the vote on British people’s sense of identity.
A recent report suggests that this is widespread, and perhaps more enduring. It finds that, since the referendum, ethnic minorities in the UK are now less likely to identify as British, and more likely to claim the identity of their ethnic heritage instead.
White British people too are less likely to embrace Britishness or other national identities, such as English or Scottish, and more likely to identify with their local area or community. They have, according to pollsters Opinium, “withdrawn from a wider sense of belonging to focusing in on the immediate world around them”. Long after the bickering of Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker, these injuries to our identity will remain.
Labour pledged in its manifesto launch yesterday to scrap university tuition fees. But if, as is widely predicted, the Tories win, fees are likely to rise above the current £9,000 a year; and as long as they do so, inevitable comparisons will continue to be made with the cost of study in the US, which currently averages a cool $33,000 (£26,000) a year at a private college.
If we are going to have US-style fees, we will need US style benefactors, made generous by US-style salaries, which are 50% higher than UK equivalents in some sectors.
In the meantime, celebrities have been stepping in. The UK rapper Stormzy this week became the latest to dip into his fortune, giving a final-year Oxford student £9,000 to do her master’s at Harvard. With some of the funding promises currently going around, I wouldn’t be surprised if sourcing donations from superstars appears somewhere as an election pledge.