Since the beginning, boys and girls have been put into separate groups and as children they are very different, especially when it comes to the toys they play with. One of the first teachings of a child’s gender role can usually be found in their toy chest. Boys had race cars, building tools, guns and action figures all being apart of their preparation for manhood. Girls had makeup sets, kitchenware, stuffed animals, and dolls. Although boys get their share of subtle societal conditioning, I am going to focus more on society’s psychological pressures on young girls through seemingly harmless toys.
Barbie can be considered to be one of those toys, she programs young girls to think that her body image is normal. Though Barbie is just a children’s toy, she is a very controversial figure produced by Mattel. Barbie is the man’s ideal woman and young girls are playing with her. Barbie is more of a sex icon rather than a children’s toy.
If Barbie were a real person she would stand about 5′ 9″and her measurements would be 39″/19″/33″ (“Barbie Body Image”) which is a very unattainable and an unrealistic size, in fact her waistline would be 39 percent smaller than the average anorexic person (Griffin).
The chances of a woman naturally having Barbie’s proportions is extremely unlikely. Barbie and many other fashion dolls do not represent realistic bodies, their perfect image can be incredibly damaging for young girls self esteem. The millions of young girls that are playing with Barbie are under the impression that Barbie is what they should look like. Barbie’s flawless body image is setting the standards of young girls expectations for their body very high at a young age. Since a very young age girls have been playing with Barbie dolls and have become very familiar with her.
Toys like Barbie also portray “gender and adult roles,” she also provides girls with a “tangible image” of social values and interactions (Griffin). Many girls look up to Barbie as a role model. The more time that these girls spend playing with their Barbie dolls the more influence she has on them and the more they are bound to want to be like her. In the ‘90s, Mattel started taking Barbie’s criticism seriously made changes to Barbie’s appearance. In 1998 Barbie was released with wider hips and a smaller bust (“Barbie“).
Despite Mattel’s effort, Barbie has been creating many negative effects on girls physical appearance for years. An abundant amount of girls develop eating disorders at very young ages because of the super skinny, perfectly proportioned girls that the media projects to be beautiful. At such young ages these children create a very captive audience and don’t realize the unrealistic aspects of society’s expectations. Barbie was released in 1959 and has already celebrated her 50th birthday in 2009, but she still doesn’t look any older than she was her first day on the market.
At the top of her sales Barbie is selling $2 billion dollars every year. About 90 percent of girls between the ages of 3 and 10 have a Barbie doll, and between the ages of 3 and 6 they own an average of 12 dolls each (Griffin). In 1965 the “Slumber Party Barbie” was introduced to the Barbie doll line. Included with the Slumber Party Barbie was a bathroom scale and a book titled, “How to Lose Weight. ” Ignoring the fact that these items were being put to use by young girls who should have no concerns about weight management, these included accessories were inappropriate for such a young age group.
The bathroom scale was permanently set to 110 pounds which is a subtle but very serious message suggesting that your weight shouldn’t exceed 110 pounds. Barbie’s Slumber Party book “How to Lose Weight,” gives the advice “don’t eat. ” As if the concept of the book weren’t enough, the nonsense that is being put into the heads of young girls is very dangerous for their health and their self-esteem. A matching Ken doll was also included in the Slumber Party Barbie set, but Ken’s accessories were a bit different than Barbie’s, Ken came with milk and cookies(Griffin).
The Slumber Party Barbie alone emphasizes how strongly society separates and stresses the identity formation for both boys and girls. It would be extremely harmful, possibly even life threatening if any young girl were to follow Barbie’s lifestyle. Barbie being 5′ 9″ and perfectly proportioned, weighing in at 110 pounds and giving the advice “don’t eat. ” Barbie sets the bar pretty high especially for the fact she’s created for the enjoyment of young girls. It would be nearly impossible to keep up with a body like Barbie’s without severely doing damage to your body and overall health conditions.
Barbie’s body image isn’t the only misleading message that she is sending to young girls. Barbie’s long time relationship with boyfriend Ken is a much too matured concept for young girls to be exposed to. Also has anyone ever wondered where Barbie’s parents have been all of these years? We’ve met all four of Barbie’s younger siblings and even her younger cousin Midge, but never her parents. With so many kids it would only make sense to have parents around to take care of them. Nonetheless, Barbie has been the only member of the family to be seen mothering these kids.
Barbie takes on a lot of responsibility trying to take care of five kids on her own, with the exception of Ken’s help. Barbie is seen with her younger teen sister Skipper, her younger twin siblings Stacie and Todd, her toddler sister Kelly and even seen pushing her infant sister Krissy in her stroller. Mothering tends to come naturally in girls so the mothering message that Barbie is giving isn’t entirely negative. However, the message is being sent in the wrong context for a few reasons.
Is Barbie really expected to parent all four of these kids alone? Also, with Barbie and Ken being the oldest they could theoretically be the parents of all of them except skipper. Barbie’s and Ken’s relationship started when they were both in their teens and when young girls see them acting as the parents of young children it could give them a very wrong idea. When kids see Barbie pushing strollers, holding bottles and dropping kids off at school the first impression that they get is that young Barbie is their mother.
Barbie is somehow always home alone obeying no rules and having free range of everything which isn’t the ideal example to be setting for kids. Not only does Barbie have a life of her own, but she always has friends around to accompany her in her very adult like life. Going through over 30 different friends over the years Barbie has been quite popular but how could she not be when she looks as perfect as she does with her always in style perfectly assembled outfits. Barbie has an uncountable amount of different outfits encouraging girls that they too need to keep up with the current styles.
Not all of Barbie’s messages are unfavorable though, aside from her sex icon image, Barbie does portray a herself to be a “loveable woman with limitless goals” (Griffin). She is presented to be very smart and intellectual not as the perfect blonde model she can be made out to be. Mattel presented Barbie with her first job as a teenage fashion model (“Barbie Fun“). However, in 1964 Barbie went to college and since Barbie has demonstrated over 100 different careers which all set positive examples for her young fans and gives kids encouragement that they can be anything that they want (Griffin).
Despite Barbie’s popularity, it is still undecided whether or not Barbie really is a detrimental threat to girls physical and emotional development. Even with all the above examples, there is no “hard evidence that Barbie herself has negative impacts on girls” (Griffin). However, no matter how you look at it, Barbie’s body is not normal and is without a doubt she is contributing to the media’s image of beautiful women being ultra thin. “Love her or hate her, Barbie remains a cultural icon of America and the world” (Griffin).
“Barbie Body Image – How Toys like Barbie Influence Our Body Image.” Teen Beauty Tips…Helping You Find Your True Beauty! Web. 06 Sept. 2010. http://www.teen-beauty-tips.com/barbie-body-image.html. Griffin, By Julia. “Academics Like to Play With Barbies, Too.” Miller-McCune Online. Web. 06 Sept. 2010. http://www.miller-mccune.com/culture-society/academics-like-to-play-with-barbies-too-3898/. “Barbie (Doll) – The New York Times.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 16 Sept. 2010. Web. 16 Sept. 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/info/barbie/. “Barbie Fun Facts.” Doll Collecting at About – Explore Dolls from Bru to Barbie! Web. 16 Sept. 2010. .
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