I’ve been noticing that big eyed dolls and big eyed animal toys have been increasing, but while I had connected the dolls with the sexualization of little girls, I hadn’t connected them with the sexualization of adult women. Sociological images has a very useful discussion of the topic.
I am an admirer of the work of Stephen J Gould and I loved her quote from him on Mickey Mouse:
The original Mouse, Stephen Jay Gould has observed, was a kind of nasty character. But, as he has evolved into the “cute and inoffensive host to a magic kingdom,” he has appeared increasingly childlike.
Childlike features, Gould argues, inspire a need to nurture: “When we see a living creature with babyish features,” he writes, “we feel an automatic surge of disarming tenderness.” Allison Guy observes that we see a similar trend in recent toy makeovers – larger eyes, bigger heads, fatter stumpier limbs — but we see this primarily in toys aimed at infants and girls, not boys.
….Guy interprets this trend as the “result of a cultural imperative for women to embody both the cute and the sexual.” So, women don “cute” clothes with colorful patterns associated with children and wear “flippy skirts” and “baby doll” t-shirts. They wear eyeliner to give the illusion of the large eyes of childhood, foundation to hide the marks of aging on the face, and pink on their cheeks to mimic the blush of youth. They are taught these imperatives from an early age.
What does it mean that feminine beauty is conflated with youthfulness, but masculine beauty is not – that we want women to be both cute and sexual? It means that we feel comfortable with women who seem helpless and require taking care of, perhaps we even encourage or demand these traits from women. Perhaps these childlike characteristics are most comforting in women who are, in fact, the least needy; I submit that we are more accepting of powerful women when they perform girlish beauty. When they don’t, they are often perceived as threatening or unlikable.
I’m often infuriated when powerful women behave disarmingly in coyly charming ways.
My daughters grew up in the ages of Barbie. Barbie may have had an exaggerated and sexualized body but least we didn’t feel “…an automatic surge of disarming tenderness” towards her.