Barbie Gets a Reality Check, But This May Not Be the Solution to Body Image Problems

When I was growing up, I had my fair share of Barbie paraphernalia. I had a bucketful of dolls, mainly because no one else knew what to get me for my birthday (besides bead bracelet kits – OH MY GOD). No complaints there – I loved Barbie. I loved cutting her hair off and coloring it in with pink marker with the hope I would someday unleash a hidden talent in hair styling. I collected different outfits, like plaid crop tops and mini-skirts (it was the ’90s). I was practically an only child, so Barbie was my BFF. It was me and Barbie against the world.

Over the last few years, people have been scrutinizing Barbie’s proportions, creating digital images and models of what Barbie would actually look like were she a living woman. The images are ghastly; real life Barbie looks like an anorexic alien with super fake boobs! Recently, artist Nickolay Lamm of used CDC measurements of an average 19 year-old young woman to create a 3D model, which he juxtaposed with normal Barbie. He then photoshopped the 3-D model so that it looked like a Barbie doll.

real barbie

Can I please not be in the same room as that?

Lamm did this with the intention of illuminating the vast differences between the standard size -5 Barbie and average young woman Barbie to reflect what women actually look like. He also concluded that “if there’s even a small chance of Barbie in its present form negatively influencing girls, and if Barbie looks good as an average-sized woman in America, what’s stopping Mattel from making one?”

Okay. While I think that this was a very cool, eye-opening project and Lamm has a good point, I just don’t think it’s completely necessary for Mattel to make any drastic changes in how Barbie looks. In no way do I support Barbie’s size and laughably unrealistic body, nor do I think young girls should strive to obtain it, but I don’t believe these matters are prevalent inside the mind of a little girl. Barbie has been disproportionate since the dawn of time (1959), and to blame negative influences on her is pushing the real problem under the rug.

Most little girls (and boys, hey) shouldn’t be comparing their bodies to Barbie at such a young age. If they are, then we really need to examine their surroundings and influences, because we’re in big trouble here if that’s the case. Most little kids just want a doll that comes with a lot of accessories and outfits; they shouldn’t be psychologically taking in Barbie’s freak-like genetics and feeling badly about themselves. When I was a kid, I knew the difference between Barbie and women. Barbie was plastic, always wore underwear, and had a permanently made-up face no matter how many times I gave her a bath. I knew there was not a single genuine aspect about Barbie. Barbie’s a toy, not a role model. Not a real person. Most toys don’t look like real people because that would be weird.

I have no problems with Mattel changing Barbie’s look at all. I say go for it. I think that Lamm’s Barbie is totally hot. But the change probably won’t make a difference to your average 5-year-old, because that’s not something she or he is focused on. Once that child becomes older and is subjected to magazines with airbrushed celebrities that are digitally enhanced to look three sizes smaller and five times as beautiful, that is when we run into body image issues. That is when girls and boys start comparing their bodies to the “perfectly” sculpted men and women who never break out, have size C breasts, and an effortless six-pack.

What I’m trying to say here is that Lamm’s re-imaging is old news. We know (or should) that the average woman is going to have hips. She’s going to have a pronounced ass. She’ll be shorter and curvier. She’ll be skinnier, bigger, taller, shorter, darker, and lighter than Lamm’s Barbie. She’ll have stretch marks or freckles, small, medium or large breasts.  Women come in so many different shapes and sizes, and it’s beautiful. I don’t think changing a plastic doll is going to help kids understand that, because I think they already do. And if they don’t, there are better ways to help them understand.

Featured image via Today, other image via Huffington Post

  • Jaclyn Rogerson

    I totally agree with you. Barbie’s were my doll of choice and i never considered that she looked weird when I was younger! I still don’t now :) She’s a doll. let kids be kids.

  • Samantha Jorritsma

    Great article! Agree with everything. I played with Barbies all the time too and I never aspired to be like her; she was just a doll that had awesome clothes.
    I think adults too often transfer their way of thinking and their experiences onto kids, but kids just don’t have the same mentality as adults do, nor do they have so many years of society influencing their ideas about body image and self image. I think for most kids, Barbie is just a toy.
    On a side note, I read that the reason why Barbie’s proportions are so out of whack originally came down to her clothing. The seams of the clothes added a lot of bulk, especially at the waist, so the waist was narrowed to accommodate this.

  • Sarah Rhea Reveles

    Loved this article! I have probably 50 Barbies/Ken/Stacey dolls growing up and I never thought “Oh I wish I had this body”…hell I was upset when I got my first bra, in the 4th or 5th grade (gotta love early development) ,because I wasn’t ready for that kind body! I wanted her wardrobe and her convertible. The only time Barbie ever made me feel bad was when I realized I was too big (tall/size) to ever enjoy sharing clothes with the my size Barbie toy. It’s like you said everyone’s body is different you’re never going to create a Barbie that can reflect them all.

  • Christina Argyrakis

    Love this article to pieces – completely agree with everything

  • Amanda Gibbons

    Great point that airbrushing and what we consider cover-ready is what to target. That’s what people are paying attention to (usually) when they start to think about their body. Also loved Barbie, no shame.

  • Megz Stroback

    little girls just need Jem in there lives. i’d take a Jem doll over Barbie any day!

  • Cheryl Hutchins

    I agree with this article to a certain extent. I’ll say up front, I loved Barbie as a child and will have no major qualms about my future children playing with Barbie. I do disagree with the sentiment that all body-image issues are developed once you’re older.

    The foundations for body-image are set when you’re young as well– even if you’re just four or five. If you grow up with mommy obsessing over her looks, that’s going to help build the foundation of your body-image. If you’re subjected unprotected to our society (which clearly overvalues appearance in women), that’s going to help build the foundation of your body-image.

    I think, however, this comes much more from the people around children than from their toys. Parents, friends, media and more will all influence how a child will later approach body-image, but I don’t believe they wait to have that influence until a child is older.

    • Gina Vaynshteyn

      I totally agree with you. Kids can definitely be affected by someone telling them they’re “fat” or if they have parents who are constantly, publicly talking about their weight. I just meant kids are probably not getting this kind of negative influence from a doll.

  • Brook E. Smith

    Barbie is what I remember as the first thing to get me into storytelling. I cut one of my Barbies hair REALLY short and put plain clothes on her (pants) because I didn’t have a Ken yet. I thought, as a second grader, that pants and a short hair cut was what primarily separated the sexes. Then I started making her clothes, giving her longer and longer back stories, and would assign her my favorite career of the moment. I turned my house into her house and the stories got increasingly complicated. In the 8th grade I learned how to write and I was truly done with Barbie. But if I hadn’t had something to act out my stories, would I be writing today? I wonder.

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