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Barbie Makeup Games: Empowering or Patronizing?

I became interested in video games when I started playing Barbie makeup games on my parents' desktop back in 2003. These games, found on sites like GirlsGoGames and EverythingGirl, had a strong appeal to me as a girl with their “girl” themed titles and hot pink logos. While Barbie makeup games may not be regarded as the most thought-provoking games, they played a significant role in building my confidence during a vulnerable time in my life.

As a young girl, I was already aware of the societal pressures and expectations placed upon me. The older girls around me encouraged me to be cautious, obedient, and conform to what was considered appropriate. Barbie makeup games did little to challenge these narratives or break free from traditional gender roles. In fact, they seemed to perpetuate the idea of turning young girls into mindless consumers. Greta Gerwig's movie “Barbie” also highlights the legacy of the Barbie doll in promoting consumerism.

One example of a Barbie makeup game I enjoyed was Dazzling Nails. However, the gameplay was limited, consisting mainly of making a few choices such as nail length, color, and accessories. The game would end with the option to print out a paper set of the designed nails. Looking back, I realize how trivial and pointless these activities were. It seemed as if toy manufacturer Mattel underestimated the capabilities and potential of young girls.

Barbie makeup games fell short compared to the adventurous worlds boys were encouraged to explore through games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Super Mario Galaxy. Additionally, the games rarely depicted women who were diverse in body size or skin color, which made me feel alienated as a South Asian child living in a predominantly white neighborhood. Despite these shortcomings, I discovered a sense of empowerment while playing these games.

As a young girl, I didn't resemble Barbie, nor did I have many role models who looked like me. Barbie became my primary source of imagination and inspiration. Through the makeup games, I realized that I could make changes and experiment with different looks. I could transform the dolls into versions of myself or use them as a canvas for my creativity. It was a way for me to assert control and express my individuality.

Although Adobe no longer supports Flash Player, and many Barbie makeup games are considered lost media, I can't help but feel a sense of loss. These simple games had a profound impact on my self-esteem and encouraged me to embrace my own beauty and potential. While the games may have been lacking in certain aspects, they provided a space for young girls to imagine and recreate themselves.

In the end, Barbie makeup games may not have been perfect, but they played a part in shaping my perspective and instilling a sense of confidence in me. They allowed me to explore my creativity, experiment with different looks, and ultimately believe in my own power. The nostalgia for these games reminds me that reinvention is still possible, and the feeling of empowerment is everlasting.

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