Why Barbie Could Ruin Your Body Image AND Your Dreams

For being an inanimate plastic doll, Barbie sure has been at the center of a whole lot of controversy. Mattel’s biggest superstar has been a part of the lives of little girls (and some boys!) for over half a century, and while all of the criticism about Barbie has been focused on the damage her unrealistic proportions can do to girls’ body image, that’s certainly not her only shortcoming, as we’re finally beginning to discover.

Since Barbie’s debut in 1959, she has held close to 150 careers including zoologist, astronaut and CEO – just to name a few. However, while her professional achievements should encourage the girls who play with her to strive for success in whatever fields they so choose to pursue as adults, a new study has found that in fact, Barbie may be having some pretty negative effects on enforcing stereotypical gender roles.

Scientists Aurora M. Sherman and Eileen L. Zurbriggen asked 37 American girls between the ages of four and seven to play with one of two toys: Barbie or Mr. Potato Head. After five minutes of play with her assigned toy, each girl was asked how many of ten listed jobs she could perform when grown up and how many a boy could do. The results were startling, to say the least.

From The Guardian:

After only five minutes of playing with Barbie, girls in our sample said that boys could do more jobs in the future than they could. Girls who played with Mrs Potato Head, on the other hand, responded that they could do about the same number of jobs as boys someday.

Ouch. That pretty much says it all, right? Regardless of what costume Barbie might don, the message she’s sending young girls is pretty clear: you should stick with the girly careers and leave the hard stuff to the boys. It’s a ridiculous notion to those of us who are able to see logic, but for young, impressionable girls, this can be incredibly damaging.

In fact, this study isn’t the only thing casting a less than favorable light on Barbie. Earlier this year, the doll teamed up with Sports Illustrated for the magazine’s Swimsuit Edition – a decision which left many confused on exactly what type of ideals Mattel was trying to promote. In addition, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has called for the Girl Scouts to end their affiliation with Barbie due to what was seen as a pretty obvious clash between the two.

It’s a sad to think that our young girls are being so negatively affected by what can seem like simple play. It’s a problem with a difficult solution, as we want to encourage our sisters, daughters and friends to explore their imaginations and enjoy their playtime while still imparting positive messages and empowering them to shoot for the stars. There’s nothing girls can’t achieve if they put their minds to it – it’s just a shame their toys seem to be telling them something different.