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Barbie Is a Doll

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When considering Barbie’s impact on society, one easily forgets that her owners manipulate her and not the other way around. Nowadays, shocking news and pictures of different women who transformed their bodies in order to become “real-life Barbie dolls” are everywhere. Truly, Barbie is an ambiguous figure. She buttresses women’s rights with her enterprising personality and careers. However, people criticize her figure for giving girls unrealistic expectations that lead to disappointment and issues with body image.
Barbie and Mattel receive harsh vilification from a society that badly needs someone to blame. While many of Barbie’s ill effects on women appear undeniable, one must not let the public opinion cloud their judgment when it comes to forming their own views on the matter.
Barbie’s notoriety as a cultural icon roots from her early beginnings. From the start, Mattel marketed Barbie as a person. Giving her careers, family, friends, and commercials in which she moved gracefully down runways, Mattel succeeded in persuading people that Barbie was real. Capturing the hearts of children, Barbie filled a void in the lives of young girls. Before Barbie, the only dolls available were dolls as pre-pubescent as the girls who played with them. There were those who did not enjoy mothering baby dolls and Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie, witnessed this in her daughter’s play-habits. Baby dolls were often set aside for the more mature paper dolls, but the paper dolls were understandably fragile and hard to play with.
It must also be noted that the original Barbie doll drew heavy inspiration from the Bild-Lilli doll, which the Handler family saw on a family vacation to Europe in 1956. However, its makers did not intend for the doll to be a play toy for children but a “sexy novelty-gift for men, based on a popular comic strip.” Handler foresaw the arguments of parents refusing to buy their daughters dolls with breasts and marketed Barbie differently. The first Barbie dolls had the tagline “teenage fashion model” following their name, in an effort to convince parents that Barbie dolls helped their daughters to become more fashionable and poised. From the beginning, Mattel intended Barbie to be a tool for young girls to project themselves upon. Somewhere in the mix, however, the message twisted around.
There are times when Mattel has fumbled with the message they hope to convey with Barbie. “Slumber Party” Barbie, circa 1965, came equipped with a scale—frozen at 110 lbs—and a small book, How to Lose Weight. Even more shocking was the book’s first rule: Don’t eat! Many critics are also wary of Barbie’s terminal Caucasian qualities. While her skin and hair colors fluctuate, why have her features always remained predominantly Caucasian-esque? Is Barbie’s whiteness making other races more Europeanized? Though there is evidence to point towards the European affect on beauty standards in different cultures—Asia, for instance, has many commonplace surgical procedures to make one’s eyes larger and more Westernized—Barbie is not the reigning influence. No, influence comes from everything else that Europeanizes the world. Advertisements, influential people, pop-culture…everything that flows from the western world into other parts of the globe affects different cultures. Barbie is just a facet of this phenomenon.
Interestingly, Barbie’s Caucasian qualities and the lack of diversity in advertising may benefit other races. In one study done by the University of Arizona, they compared body image issues in African American females and Caucasian females. The researchers found that the response from the Caucasian females was “nightmarish,” 90% were not satisfied with their bodies and supported dieting as an “all-purpose panacea.” The white females seemed to all support a vision of the perfect woman, whose own silhouette seemed strikingly similar to that of Barbie. In contrast, the black females did not value dieting as much and most seemed content with their own bodies. It is possible that these discrepancies could be because of black women’s lack of representation in advertisements and their lack of an “ideal” to follow.
The bulk of the arguments against Barbie deal with body issues that the doll can inspire in young girls. Anna Quindlen, when her own daughter asked why she could not own a Barbie, replied, “I hate Barbie. She gives little girls the message that the only thing that's important is being tall and thin and having a big chest and lots of clothes. She's a terrible role model.” A common argument, Quindlen’s remark perfectly characterizes the attitudes of countless mothers who refuse to buy their daughters a Barbie doll. Another important factor contributing to Barbie’s bad reputation comes from the media. The news facilitates a shocking amount of interest in the acts of those who wish to change their bodies by means of plastic surgery. Oftentimes, these women resemble Barbie with blonde hair, heavy busts, and tiny waists. While many women may attempt to look like Barbie on a subconscious scale, a few map out their surgeries purposefully with the doll in mind. With caricatures like these in the media, one understands how this Barbie-hatred festers and grows in the minds of concerned parents.
The irony of Barbie’s situation seems apparent: the first feminist doll, yet feminists shun her. With her plentiful careers and her message that “women have choices,” many overlook her bright points in favor of condemning her unrealistic appearance for polluting the minds of innocent young girls. Indeed, this accusation is misplaced. Barbie is not why eating disorders exist. Barbie is not the reason people yearn to become an “ideal.” Barbie was created as the pre-existing model of a perfect woman—a glorified mannequin. She adapts to every new generation that discovers her, with ever-changing concepts. Many who blame Barbie for making girls feel “inadequate” fail to realize that Barbie dolls aren’t the problem—people are.



Works Cited

Quindlen, Anna. "Public & Private; Barbie At 35." The New York Times. The New York Times,
10 Sept. 1994. Web. Oct.-Nov. 2012.



Stone, Tanya Lee. The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us.
New York: Viking, 2010. Print.

Chavdarian, Jack. "The Human Barbie Doll Needs to Be a Wake-up Call to Mattel." Daily 49er.
College Media Network, 18 Nov. 2012. Web. Oct.-Nov. 2012.



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CoyoteChoir said...
Jun. 22 at 5:24 pm:
Wow. Nicely done. It's good to see a different view in support of it, rather than the common arguements against Barbie. I guess it's just another example of how values change over time; the original Nancy Drew books - written to show that women can be couragous and independent and don't always need a man around - are said to have a Mary Sue main character, and Barbie - to show women have choices - gets complaints about being unrealistic in figure. It's a shame, really.
 
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