Barbie first appeared in 1959 at the American International Toy Fair, but her subliminal message of having a perfect body still prevails today. With her voluminous blonde hair, large breasts, and impossibly thin waist, it’s no wonder children idolize and crave to have that “ideal” body just like Barbie’s. However, if we look at Barbie’s life-size measurement, we can see she has a neck twice as large as the average woman’s neck and six inches thinner. We can also see she has 6 inch ankles and a shoe size equivalent to a child’s size 3. This would mean Barbie would not be able to hold her own head up and she would be forced to walk on all fours. Not very glamourous, right?
Although this topic may seem a bit strange and uncomfortable to talk about, it’s crucial that we do. In just the United States alone, 24 million people suffer from some form of disordered eating. Statistically that’s about 7% of our entire population. According to the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, “Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.” This calls for a change.
The problem of body dissatisfaction begins when we are just kids because so many different forms of media try to shove what the “ideal” body is supposed to look like in our faces. This includes commercials on T.V., movies, magazine advertisements, and toys—especially Barbie. As a young girl I remember carrying my Barbie doll around with me everywhere, dressing her in her perfect size 0 dress, and talking to her about any problems I had. Barbie acted as my imaginary friend as a child, just as she acted as the imaginary friend to millions of young girls across the nation. Looking back, I wonder if Barbie is the reason I reconsider reaching for the piece of cake in the dining hall or making a late-night call to Campus Cookies.
However, Dr. Kate Roberts, a family psychiatrist, does not think we should blame Barbie for these negative thoughts associated with body image. Roberts states, “Rather than take away Barbie and the joy and imaginative play she inspires, we have to teach our children that she’s not part of “real life;” she’s a toy and not something to emulate.” However, Albert Bandura’s Self Cognitive theory believes otherwise. His theory states that a child learns from their surroundings. This can include family, friends, classmates, even toys if a child has a strong bond to that toy. Millions of children across the nation look to Barbie as a role model while their sense of self-concept is still developing. This explains why Barbie’s impossible body becomes the ideal body for girls from childhood to adulthood.
In the past, toy makers have tried to make more natural looking dolls. For example, in 2002 the Tonner Doll Company released the Emme doll, designed after the real life plus-size model, Emme. More recently, Nickolay Lamm released Lammily who promotes the message, “Average is Beautiful.” Lamm took his doll one step further by including “Lammilly marks”, which are stickers that show scars, acne, and cellulite—or natural imperfections. Lamm even interviewed second graders from an independent school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to see how they reacted to this more realistic looking doll.
Although Tonner and Lamm are steering our nation’s toy industry in the right direction, nothing seems to overshadow the Barbie empire. It isn’t until Barbie herself gains a few pounds or goes out of business, that a real change will occur. Take your pick, Mattel.
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“Eating Disorders Statistics – ANAD” ANAD. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, n.d. Web. 28 November 2014.
Lammily LLC. SOF, Inc., 2014. Web. 27 November 2014.
Nickolay Lamm. “Second Graders React to Lammily and Other Fashion Dolls.” YouTube. 19 November 2014. Web. 29 November 2014.
Roberts, Dr. Kate. Dr. Kate Roberts Homepage. Dr. Kate Roberts, n.d. Web. 30 November 2014.
Worobey, John, and Harriet, S. Worobey. “Body-Size Stigmatization By Preschool Girls: In A Doll’s World, It Is Good To Be “Barbie”.” Body Image 11.2 (2014): 171-174. CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.