Archive for the Shopping Category

Barbie at 50: Still looking good and causing debate

Posted in Fashion, Favorite stores, Shopping, Toys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2009 by Dawn Raftery

Barbie—she of the glossy blonde locks and bullet breasts atop an impossibly tiny waist—is half a century old, and damned if she doesn’t look just as good as ever. Little girls everywhere emulate the Mattel doll, and even big girls—I’m referring to age here, not necessarily size—delight in the Barbie-verse, complete with a closet full of couture, a “dream house,” sporty cars, a plethora of impressive careers and an adoring metrosexual boyfriend.

I’m going against the feminist grain when I proclaim my love for Barbie dolls. It wasn’t until I minored in Women’s Studies at Northern Illinois University in the mid-’90s that I realized not all females were so enamored of the golden girl. There is plenty of venom aimed at the doll in certain academic circles and class discussions.

I’ll admit the arguments against Barbie have some validity. At 39-21-33, her measurements are not only unattainable, they’re absurd, and I certainly won’t refute the research that she would lack the requisite body fat for menstruation. But it’s silly to extrapolate from that information that Barbie, once such a close friend in childhood, becomes the enemy in adulthood, turning healthy young women into anorexics and bulimics.

Back in the ’80s, when Cabbage Patch Kids were the big toy trend and I had two of them, I never thought that they were setting the mold for what real babies should look like. In fact, I would have been appalled to discover that someone’s newly born baby could have passed for a Cabbage Patch Kid.

Barbie is a beautiful doll, but she’s a toy nonetheless, and I did not delude myself into thinking I could or should resemble her when I grew up. I also come from the unique perspective of being a minority—I’m Korean—so a busty, leggy doll with platinum blonde hair and wide blue eyes was never going to be a possibility for me.

I’ve read that dolls like Barbie have an adverse effect on minority children—the heart-wrenching story of Pecola in Toni Morrison’s 1970 novel, “The Bluest Eye,” comes to mind as a literary example—because they perpetuate the belief that beauty is best defined in white terms. I don’t want to discount those whose experiences run counter to my own, but I don’t consider Barbie to be the cause of prejudice in the world. That would be the territory of man, not plastic toy.

Without hating myself or having low self-esteem, I happily played with Barbie until junior high, sending her out on dates with Ken (and G.I. Joe when she desired variety), changing her outfit multiple times in an hour and sliding her—yes her, not Ken—behind the steering wheel of her camper van. Did she inspire eating disorders or depression in me? No. Did she lead to unrealistic expectations about womanhood? Well, maybe I hoped to one day have a wardrobe as great as hers, and that’s obviously not happened.

Not all girls treated their dainty dolls as kindly as I did. I’ve heard horror stories—at least they fill me with horror—from friends who flushed their heads down the toilet, cut off their hair, tossed them around in the dirt and drew on their faces with marker or pen. That to me was sacrilege, although I’m guessing many a feminist is snickering at the notion. (I, however, would point out that abuse against any woman, real or imagined, is reprehensible.)

Much like the maidens and princesses in fairy tales, Barbie almost always has blonde hair and blue eyes. But I had dolls from the international collection; they came from different countries and were designed accordingly. I had one from Scotland, Ireland, France and Korea. These were actually my favorite dolls, especially the Parisian one with copper-colored hair and a beauty mark who came clad in a slinky can-can dress.

Barbie didn’t impede my development into an intelligent, assertive young woman. If anything, she helped me push the boundaries of my imagination about how I’d interact in the adult world. I never looked at any of them as a substitute for my grown-up self. Rather, she was a heroine in a soap opera or epic miniseries with an exciting social life I could only dream about at that age. I enjoyed Barbie much like I enjoyed—and still enjoy—fairy tales.

The promise of transformation is a heady thing, and that’s the allure of both Barbie and fairy tales. They make you believe change is possible. Fairy tales have been reinvented and retold in recent years, spurring a wonderful book series edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow (or maybe it’s the other way around). Barbie’s appeal is enduring; every second at least three of the dolls are sold. She’s the ultimate siren, and I find it surprising she isn’t mentioned in Laren Stover’s “The Bombshell Manual of Style.”

Just last Christmas I succumbed to her powers of seduction once again. While shopping at Target’s toy department for my niece and nephew, I saw a Hello Kitty Barbie. It took me only a second’s delay before I scooped her up and rushed over to the cash register. She’s still in her box, resting comfortably on a shelf in my second bedroom.

Cheers to Barbie on her birthday. This dame is 50—and she still doesn’t need Botox. Lucky cougar.

The Snuggie pub crawl? A walking nightmare

Posted in Commercials, Shopping with tags , , , on February 26, 2009 by Dawn Raftery

America has enough image problems. Do we really need a crowd of drunks staggering through the streets, looking like a band of medieval monks in their Snuggies?

Yep, that’s right. Your worst fear—or maybe it’s only mine—has been confirmed. The evil influence of the Snuggie has invaded the haven of those who need a place to relax after a long, grueling day at work. There are Snuggie pub crawls being planned in big cities all over the country. The Chicago one will take place Saturday, April 18. (Mark that date on your calendar if, like me, you plan to stay away from bars to avoid the fashion eyesore otherwise known as the Snuggie.)

I hope the event organizers have taken into account the perils of such an evening. Besides the inherent risk of tripping over the hem of your robe and cracking your head against the concrete, fights could break out among the alcohol-swilling Snuggie wearers and the rest of the alcohol-swilling population who can’t get over having in their midst people who resemble a Ku Klux Klan member or a “Star Wars” character. Among the inebriated, fights have broken out for far less. Let the Snuggie SmackDown begin.

You won’t ever see me sporting a Snuggie. A $20 oversized fleece blanket with sleeves that you wear like a robe? No thanks. I already have a very nice, thick robe, and if so inclined I can wear it backward while I lounge on my couch. Or I could even cut holes in one of my blankets.

So how has the Snuggie managed to accumulate more than 4 million sales under its sleeve? Blame it on the tough economy. Thanks to the recession, direct-response advertising, the preferred industry term for commercials that feature a toll-free 800 number for placing orders, has become more prevalent on cable television. Such “as-seen-on-TV” companies are purchasing more TV slots for less money. Plus, people are looking for ways to lower their heating bills, and bundling up is just as convenient a way as any.

But I still can’t believe how successful the over-the-top Snuggie infomercial is or how gullible its fans are. They’ve been convinced that regular blankets just don’t make the fold anymore. Regular blankets slip and slide. And when you want to reach for something, your hands are trapped—trapped!—inside. And here I thought all this time my hands were just resting comfortably under my blanket.

The Snuggie’s bizarre cut following is frightening in its intensity—another example of this blanket/robe’s evil influence. Type in Snuggie on Facebook and more than 500 results come up. Snuggie is on YouTube, with more than 700 videos posted, many of them parodies, including one titled “Cult of the Snuggie” with 381,711 views as of today.

The Snuggie is not the first of its kind. Before the Snuggie, there was the Slanket (the same exact product, albeit with a less snuggly name and at more than double the cost). And after the Snuggie, who knows? Maybe an oversized fleece blanket with sleeves and a hood? I can picture the ad now: A group of guys and girls in the new Snuggies grind and gyrate—maybe flop around would be a more accurate description, given their getup—to club music under strobe lights, while a female voice-over coos, “You know how to stay Snuggie-licious this winter.”

Addictions to love and shopping: A stale cinematic formula

Posted in Fashion, Movies, Shopping with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2009 by Dawn Raftery

Give me “Moonstruck.” Give me “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” I’d even take “The Cutting Edge” (hey, it’s got the Pamchenko going for it).

But as far as romantic comedies go, “Confessions of a Shopaholic”—based on the series of best-selling books by Sophie Kinsella—is an excruciatingly painful exercise in female fantasy. Isla Fisher’s Rebecca Bloomwood will resonate with women like myself who crave high-fashion clothing and accessories. Poor Becky’s full-time hobby is so out of control she has run up nearly $20,000 in credit-card bills. And yes, I can relate to reaching for the plastic instead of cutting up the cards, bringing them to the local junkyard and watching as they’re crushed into oblivion. An extreme measure? Not for shopaholics.

But I found my willingness to suspend my belief gravely tested when Becky is so obsessed with shopping that she risks missing an interview for her dream job at the fashion magazine Alette. I found it further tested when she finagles a job at Successful Saving and writes a hugely popular column on frugality using—what else?—fashion metaphors. Why do I consider Becky’s career trajectory so absurd? Because I’m in a job search mode myself, and penning winning propositions while drunk to land a second interview after the first one failed abysmally just doesn’t happen. To anyone outside of Hollywood’s play pen, that is.

The real romance in “Confessions of a Shopaholic” is not between Becky and her boss, the dashing British editor Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy). It’s between Becky and her newest acquisition. Her ever-burgeoning relationship quickly hits a snag: The Evil Debt Collector, played by a properly unctuous Robert Stanton. The silly cat-and-mouse game between Becky and Stanton’s Derek Smeath reminds me of the battle between Ferris Bueller and Principal Rooney, but you grow tired of her preposterous yet nearly always successful machinations to avoid him and accept responsibility for her actions.

I prefer my romantic comedies to be witty and charming, with some sort of metamorphosis, whether physical, mental or emotional, at the heart of the story. “Confessions of a Shopaholic” falls woefully short on all counts, and it’s not even really fun to watch. Its glossy veneer eventually cracks under the strain of Becky’s frequently garish wardrobe. Label lust doesn’t automatically translate into style.

I’ve read many reviews extolling the comedic talent and physical virtues of Fisher, who’s beguiling to a degree with her oh-so-earnest, wide-eyed pouts, but I am oddly disturbed by the sight of such a childlike face atop such a curvy body. I guess that’s why she appeals to the male set. The same phenomenon must happen a lot with Scarlett Johansson, who plays Anna in “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

But whereas Becky doesn’t mean to hurt anyone—really, wouldn’t any fashion addict pick buying a new outfit for a TV show appearance over buying a bridesmaid’s dress for your best friend’s wedding??—Scarlett’s Anna is, well, yearning to be a scarlet woman. (It’s interesting how even in the reviews that pan “He’s Just Not That Into You” for its supposedly misogynist portrayal of women, no one condemns Anna for actively pursuing a married man.)

“He’s Just Not That Into You,” a better page-to-screen adaptation in the romantic comedy genre—I won’t call it a chick flick, because I consider the term derogatory—is based on a book by two “Sex and the City” writers, Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. I was mildly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie, from the opening sequence where Ginnifer Goodwin narrates that women’s acceptance of cruelty in boyfriends and husbands stems from a childhood incident. A little boy insults a little girl on a playground, and the girl runs crying to her mother, who tells her the boy was mean because he likes her. Flash forward to the present, where in various scenarios a woman’s girlfriends explain a man’s bad behavior by saying essentially the same thing.

There’s truth in those vignettes. Not that men who treat women poorly are masking their true feelings of love and adoration—if that were truly the message of this movie, I would call it misogynistic—but that women tend to look at their significant other as a long-term investment and are therefore often reluctant to let go when the relationship starts sinking or has been seriously problematic from the beginning. That women are especially guilty of coddling their heartbroken friends with bonbon-like compliments when they should be serving up cold slices of reality. That women like to believe in the exception rather than the rule.

Goodwin’s character, Gigi, is a Carrie Bradshaw on steroids in terms of being an emotional basket case and treating every man like he’s Mr. Big. She doesn’t know how to censor her thoughts or emotions, she jumps years ahead in a relationship after half a date gone OK, and she stalks men who express minimal interest in her. You can feel all the women in the audience wince when she once again demonstrates her lack of pride and tries to wrest an honest response from a man. And when Gigi finally succeeds, when she finally gets her man and she is recounting the moment when everything clicked for them, you see how easily perception redefines our histories as a couple.

The women in “He’s Just Not That Into You” aren’t farcical like Becky Bloomwood. They’re flawed and messy, yes, but they’re real. They spend more time on finding love and working on their relationships than I like to see in a movie theater or real life, but society is greatly responsible for female absorption in the ultimate commitment.

Another “He’s Just Not That Into You” character, Jennifer Aniston’s Beth, wants to be married and breaks up with her boyfriend of seven years because he won’t marry her. One agonizing scene is during a speech at the dinner party the night before her younger sister’s wedding, when a cousin refers to Beth as the older model still available. The humiliation Beth experiences as a single woman past her 20s is very relevant—it’s what made “Sex and the City” so relevant and successful with women of all ages.

Still, I’m not the biggest romantic comedy fan (I would have never watched Sarah Jessica Parker’s TV series if it had been named “Dating and the City” or “Looking for Love in the City”). The cinematic fare I enjoy most doesn’t go by names like “Serendipity,” “Sweet Home Alabama” or, my all-time nonfavorite, “You’ve Got Mail.” I plan to see “Coraline” this weekend and it wouldn’t shock me if the richest roles for actresses are in a stop-motion animated movie aimed at young girls, long before society warps our self-esteem and informs us our life should revolve around the Next Man or the Next Big Purchase or the Next Mr. Right.