It seems like the only times I hear about Barbie anymore are in conversations about her body.
We’ve all heard the statistics that claim that Barbie, if she were a real person, would be six feet tall, weigh 100 pounds, and have the hips of a prepubescent boy (Olson, par. 1). Often, people will use these statistics against the Barbie brand as a way of blaming the doll for the prevalence of unhealthy body consciousness among girls and young women. In fact, competitors have been introduced to the market to address this issue, such as the Lammily doll, a Barbie rival proportionate to the body of an average 19-year-old woman. When the concept for the doll was introduced in 2014, it garnered the attention of many adult women, who loved the idea of an average-looking doll whose accessories include acne, scars, and cellulite (yes, really!).
In January of this year, perhaps as a response to the Lammily doll’s release and the subsequent backlash against the Barbie brand, Mattel released a new line of Barbies that made headlines and sparked a huge conversation among the doll’s fans amd critics alike. This new line of Barbies features dolls with petite, curvy, and tall bodies—a revolutionary move for a brand that has featured only one (inhuman) body type since its conception in 1959 (Pearson & Mullins, 230).
One might think that the introduction of this line of dolls would be the be-all and end-all of conversations over Barbie’s body, but in reality, it may do more harm than good. The new curvy Barbie doll doesn’t fit into the clothes of the petite, tall, and classic Barbie dolls, which begs the question: when two little girls are playing with their dolls together, what will bring more awareness to the doll’s body type than the realization that a curvy Barbie doll cannot wear the same clothes as a petite one?
Perhaps by giving Barbie three new looks, we could be diminishing children’s self-confidence rather than boosting it. In constantly turning the conversation to Barbie’s body rather than the wealth of careers, friends, and achievements her character seems to have, we are, in turn, sending the message to young girls that a woman’s body is more important than her personality or accomplishments. According to unofficial Barbie “biographer” M.G. Lord, Barbie is a toy “designed by women for women to teach women what—for better or worse—is expected of them by society” (Lord, 8). (Interestingly enough, artist Nickolay Lamm, a man, created the Lammily doll). Barbie can be a doctor, an artist, a surfer, a teacher, a babysitter, and more, and yet all anyone seems to care about is how she looks. In only focusing on her body, we are making it clear to little girls what is expected of them by society.
This is not to say that representing body diversity is unimportant or harmful, but why should we needlessly make children more frustratingly aware of the differences between women’s bodies when they themselves are hardly aware of their own bodies? Barbie isn’t the one telling girls to focus on their bodies from a young age; we are. If we want that to change, we have to stop turning the conversation toward Barbie’s measurements and instead focus on how Barbie can inspire girls to strive for something other than aesthetic beauty.
Lord, M.G. Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll. New York: Morrow, 1994. Print.
Olsen, Samantha. “Why Are Barbie’s Body Measurements So Unrealistic? Little Girls Aren’t Buying It.” Medical Daily. IBT Media Inc., 31 Dec. 2014. 23 Mar. 2016.
Pearson, Marlys, and Paul R. Mullins. “Domesticating Barbie: An Archaeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology.” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 3.4 (1999): p. 225-259. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.
Shriver, Lionel. “Sorry Lammily, Your Dumpy Looks Won’t Fool Many Little Girls.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 21 Nov. 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.