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December 1, 2011

Barbie

by admin
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Contributor: Carol Perales

Also by this contributor: “Sex and the City” 

Who wouldn’t want to look like Barbie? With her perfect hair, long legs and thin waist. At the age of twenty-one and having already reached my full body growth, I have to accept the fact that I will never fit this image. My genetics have decided not to take the Barbie route. Barbara Millicent Roberts, fondly known as Barbie, was introduced in 1959 by Mattel.[1] She has successfully been assisting girls in the art of play and fashion for years. However, there has been controversy that Barbie portrays an unhealthy, unattainable body image and has an overly sexualized figure. It can also be argued that Barbie allows girls to learn about a variety of available occupations as well as striving to be independent young women. Therefore, is Barbie really just a simple doll or are young girls receiving messages from these toys as to how to interpret body image?

I loved playing with Barbie as a little girl. I had her clothes, her friends, her pets, the Barbie dream house, the pink convertible, her wardrobe carrying case; you get the picture, I was Barbie crazy. My mother even supported my obsession by sewing tiny clothes for my Barbie as well as a matching set for myself. Pink became my favorite color at the time, and I remember spending hours with my girlfriends making up stories and games for us to play. However, neither my brother nor any other boys ever participated in our games. Perhaps they were scared by the abundance of pink or the accessories and sparkles; nevertheless, we were totally content to live in our girly fantasy world all by ourselves. We didn’t need boys at that time, we had Barbie.

The unrealistic proportions of Barbie’s figure have been a concern for many critics and parents.  According to the Barbie website her true doll measurements are a 5” bust, 3 ¼” waist and 5 3/16” hips[2]. If she were a real woman this would translate into a 39” bust, 18” waist, 33” hips and weighing 110lbs and 5’9” tall. Students at Hamilton College constructed a life size replicate of Barbie in order to spread awareness about eating disorders.[3]  This shows women how unrealistic Barbie’s shape is, the odds of a real woman having Barbie’s proportions are one in 100,000. If she were an actual woman she would be so unhealthy it’s unlikely she would be able to survive[4]. A journal article in Developmental Psychology describes a study that examined girls’ body dissatisfaction in relation to the exposure to images of dolls. They found that girls who were exposed to Barbie reported a desire to be thinner, with a lower body esteem implying that early exposure to these unrealistic thin dolls may damage girl’s body image.[5] These images of Barbie cause concern that young girls may feel the pressure to look like Barbie and may therefore lead to unhealthy habits in order to conform to this image. In comparison American Girl Dolls created in 1986 by the Pleasant Company, that later sold, to Mattel in 1998 are also marketed towards girls for the purpose of play and dress up[6]. However, these are marketed to allow the girls to buy dolls from a historical time in American history or design a doll after themselves[7]. The dolls are significantly larger and more child like in appearance in comparison with Barbie. Some may argue that this allows girls to develop a healthier image of body image, or perhaps these dolls also reinforce the stigma that all bodies must look the same, leaving no room for variety. Nonetheless, these dolls are now both owned by Mattel, allowing their customers of young girls to choose between the sexy Barbie or relatable American girl doll.

I loved my days growing up with Barbie. Looking back it’s hard to recognize if I was playing with her just because she was a fun toy or because I someday wanted to be like her. While there is evidence that women can develop a negative self body image after looking at body images in media, or in this case Barbie, is it really Barbie who is the enemy? Should we be putting so much blame on a mold of plastic or instead does this call for a need of self reflection? In the words of the smart and beautiful Eleanor Roosevelt, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Let’s not feel inferior by comparing ourselves to a piece of plastic, as Mattel simply states it on their web site, “She’s a doll, people…”


[1] “For the Record | BarbieMedia.com – The Best Doll Ever |”, n.d., http://www.barbiemedia.com/?subcat=25.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Galia Slayen: The Scary Reality of a Real-Life Barbie Doll”, n.d., http://www.huffingtonpost.com/galia-slayen/the-scary-reality-of-a-re_b_845239.html.

[4] Griffin, Julia, “Academics Like to Play With Barbies, Too – Miller-McCune,” Miller-McCune, March 9, 2009, http://www.miller-mccune.com/culture-society/academics-like-to-play-with-barbies-too-3898/.

[5] Dittmar, Helga, Halliwell, Wmma, and Ive, Suzanne, “Does Barbie make girls want to be thin? The effect of experimental exposure to images of dolls on the body image of 5-8 year-old girls.,” Developmental Psychology 42 (March 2006), http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/dev/42/2/283/.

[6] Monica Hesse, “The allure of an American Girl Living with an American Girl,” The Washington Post, June 24, 2011, Met 2 Edition edition, http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/lnacademic/.

[7] “American Girl | Company History”, n.d., http://www.americangirl.com/corp/corporate.php?section=about&id=2.

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