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The Barbie Blues: How Do Barbie Dolls and the Modeling Industry Influence Girls’ Views of Themselves?

Have you ever been unsatisfied with your body? Well, society certainly does not help. Though many factors in today’s society impact the way women of all ages look at themselves, a common element from the 1950s to today is the Barbie doll. When Barbie came out in 1959 girls loved the doll. They looked up to it and they still do today. That’s also when it arguably started to get girls to rethink their own unique body types because people believed that Barbie was “perfect.” In today’s society most younger girls and older women have something about their body that they don’t like. With Barbie’s unrealistic proportions and stick like figure it worsens what women already think of themselves; it also influences girls to look like her, which causes an outbreak of body dissatisfaction. This needs to change! These unrealistic body proportions are not all fun and games when every girl gets a Barbie. All women need to accept their own bodies as beautiful, but how are they going to do that if there are still things in our society like Barbie dolls to make women unhappy with the way they look?

Barbie’s proportions have important ramifications. The contrast between the proportions of the average woman and a Barbie doll is drastic. The only thing that Barbie has in common, proportionally, with the average woman is her head width. They both measure 22”. The neck, bust, biceps, forearms, wrists, waist, hips, thighs, calves, and ankles are not to proportion. Barbie’s body is much smaller, “delicate,” and tiny compared to her head size. If Barbie was a live human, her wrists would be 3.5” inches– the average woman’s is 6-7. That’s a BIG difference. Barbie would not even be able to carry heavy items with such proportions. Barbie’s neck is 9” wide when an average women’s is 12”-13” wide. Barbie would not even be capable of lifting her head if she were real. It is not fair for girls with insecurities—which is most girls—to be influenced by a doll with such unrealistic proportions!

These differences and the ideal body shape Barbie is supposed to embody make females believe their bodies are not good enough. This arguably leads women to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.  Look at the world we live in: one in ten students has an eating disorder; half of girls 9-10 say they feel better about their physical image while they are dieting; 42% of girls 6-10 wish they were thinner. As well, four out of five 10-year-olds say that they’re worried about being fat. For little girls to feel better when they are keeping themselves from eating is completely twisted. Barbie influences these statistics both directly and indirectly. She influences girls directly by being portrayed as the “woman that does it all,” and she also is a popular doll that girls want to play with. She influences girls indirectly by just being in commercials. Barbie is a major influence in girl’s lives.

In response to understandable criticism, the creators of the Barbie doll made a more “realistic” Barbie’s in 2013 and again in 2014. The newer, practical, proportional Barbie has more features to make her more relatable to real women. There is a new “normal” Barbie which first came out in early 2014. The proportions this Barbie were designed to have are the proportions of an average 19 year old. Barbie, however, this Barbie arguably still doesn’t look so average. She has perfect hair perfect skin and makeup done to look pristine. About a month ago the same designer that created the “normal” Barbie created an even more “regular” looking Barbie doll. This new doll has natural brunette hair with very little makeup and cellulite. This doll can be purchased with an expansion pack with tattoos, stretch marks, pimples, and scars, ostensibly to make this Barbie more like the modern woman. The reaction to this doll has been nothing but positive. This is the kind of doll girls and even women can relate to. There have been videos of young girls playing with this new Barbie doll, in which they see that it is normal and perfectly ok to have a scar from a past surgery or a little fat on your stomach. As the designer, Nickolay Lamm, said “I want to show that average is beautiful”.

I believe that modeling industry affects many women’s view of themselves, but I also believe that dolls such as Barbie influence the modeling industry. The average American women is 5”4 and weighs 166 lbs, and average model is 5”10 and weighs 107 lbs. That is a huge difference and an even bigger problem. There is no question that if people see women’s bodies televised like that they will try to look like that, which causes major problems with self-image and body disorders. Some advertising stores such as Victoria’s Secret publicize pictures of women with what they call the “perfect body”. This is not fair to women who don’t have bodies like the ones they call the “perfect body”—most women don’t! A lot has changed over time with models as well; the perfect body has slowly become skinner, less curvy, and stick-like. To me they’re starting to look malnourished. The picture below shows a Victoria’s Secret model from the early 2000’s in contrast to a Victoria’s Secret model now. The model on the left is more voluptuous and curvy and the one on the right looks like a skeleton. It’s crazy to me that girls are looking up to a girl that probably has one meal a week and works out every second of every day.

The clothing industry is also a factor in how women see themselves. How often do you hear girls say that they want to go down a size? Or two? Or three?! Well, Buzzfeed has explored clothing sizes by having one model try on size sixteen jeans in ten different designers. The results proved that you shouldn’t trust clothing sizes. Girls’ bodies are all different! There can’t be one size for a lot of girls; it just wouldn’t make sense! The model fit differently in all of the brands—some were too small, some too big, and rarely just right. Some women think that if you’re not the perfect 0 or 2 or 24 or 25, you’re too fat. All of the brands that this model tried on said they were 16, yet Jessica Simpson brand, Arizona brand, and Jones New York were way too tight. She couldn’t even button them! In contrast, the brand Decree was too big. Forever21 plus, Liz Claiborne, and NYDJ fit almost right. This proves that you can’t just go by one size. So women: stop thinking that you have to narrow yourself to one size!!!! Because you are more than just one size—you can be a range of sizes. Obsession with sizing is what leads to body disorders. This MUST change. I for one used to think that if I couldn’t fit into the smallest pair of jeans I wasn’t skinny enough. I finally came to the realization that what makes us beautiful as women is the fact that our bodies are unique and special. In reality we should all have our outfits customized!

Photoshop and the retouching of fashion photos is a frequent thing editors do to women’s bodies on magazines, websites, etc. Brands and magazines use Photoshop to edit models’ skin, hair, cellulite, and other “flaws.” Let me remind you that the models that are being retouched are models that already have unrealistic body proportions. Photoshop is not even a shock to people anymore: when they find out that a celebrity or model was Photoshopped in an ad campaign they are rarely if ever surprised. A popular video that has circled around the web for a few years, which is also on, was about a woman that underwent tremendous changes. Her eyes were expanded, nose readjusted, lips defined, stomach taken in two sizes, neck and legs lengthened, and posterior tightened. Then they evened out her complexion and brightened her skin tone. This goes to show that magazines won’t rely on beauty alone; they have to accentuate it to an unrealistic standard. Women of all ages end up looking up to this standard that they can’t ever fully achieve. This is why one brand in particular, ModCloth, has banned Photoshop on all of their photos. Their view is that they want more realistic looking models to show women that no one looks like the mold the fashion industry has shaped people into. We need more people to come together to fix this twisted perception of beauty that we labor under.


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