You might be wondering about the connection between Barbie and body image. Well, the average American girl between the ages of three to 11 owns ten Barbie dolls, according to “Barbie” by Sara Pendergast. The average American girl grows up surrounded by the Barbie body image. The effects of Barbie and body image run deeper than you might imagine.
The Barbie Body Image
If the traditional Barbie doll was a real woman, she would be 5’9” and weigh 120 pounds. Her body fat percentage would be so low that she would not be able to menstruate. Her measurements would be 38-18-34. The average woman’s measurements, on the other hand, are about 41-34-43. In the book “Ken and Barbie at Life Size,” author Kevin Norton states that only about one in 100,000 women actually match the Barbie body image.
Barbie and Body Image
We frequently give young children toys designed to allow them to practice for roles they will take on as adults. That’s why we have housekeeping toys, toy doctor kits, toy pots and pans, baby dolls and so on. Through play, children learn about the world and their place in it.
One woman, Cindy Jackson, was so heavily influenced by Barbie that she underwent 20 plastic surgeries (to the tune of $55,000) in an attempt to make herself look just like the Barbie body image. Not everyone is influenced to such an extreme degree, but children are influenced by the toys they play with. One study showed that girls who played with Barbie reported lower body image and a greater desire to be thinner than the girls who played with a curvier doll or no doll at all.
So what do Barbie dolls teach children about the world? They teach children that it is desirable to be thin, white, and blonde. They may encourage children to strive for an unrealistic body image.
Eating Disorders, Barbie and Body Image
The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness reports that 70 million people worldwide suffer from eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. About 90 percent of those with eating disorders are young women between the ages of 12 and 25. Remember, these young women likely played with Barbie dolls, multiple Barbie dolls, shortly before developing their disorders.
An unrealistic idea about the way we should look or what we should weigh is not the only thing that causes eating disorders and in fact, eating disorders are complex conditions that probably have numerous contributing factors. Still, we know that the toys children play with influence their later behavior.
One study found more than half of women ages 18 to 25 would prefer to be run over by a truck than to be overweight. Even if they have not been diagnosed with eating disorders, these women clearly do not have healthy body images. Learn more about the causes of eating disorders.
The New Barbie Dolls
Mattel, the toy company that makes Barbie, announced that in 2016 it would begin introducing new dolls with diverse body types, including, tall, petite and curvy dolls. Company spokesperson Michelle Chidoni explained that the new dolls will be “a better reflection of what girls see in the world around them.” Not only will they better represent the diversity seen in real women, they may also help girls develop a more realistic body image.
In 2015, Mattel introduced dolls with different skin tones and hair colors, and together with the new body shapes and sizes, girls will be better able to choose dolls that look like them and like the role models in their lives. Says Evelyn Mazzocco, Senior Vice President at Mattel, “We believe we have a responsibility to girls and parents to reflect a broader view of beauty.”
Coping with Barbie and Body Image Issues
Parents should make informed decisions about which toys they give to their children and consider carefully how those toys might affect them. The new Barbie dolls offer increased options for parents. Parents can introduce their children to a range of body shapes, sizes, and colors through these new dolls.
Parents can choose to give their children dolls that do not promote an unrealistic or even unhealthy body image, such as the new Barbies offered by Mattel. Parents can give their children toys other than dolls. Parents can also discuss the messages toys convey with their children. Even young children can begin to develop a critical eye towards these things if provided with some guidance in that direction.
Studies show that about 90 percent of all cases of eating disorders are diagnosed before the age of 20. Parents should be alert to warning signs of eating disorders in children and should seek professional help if their children show signs of a disorder. Early diagnosis and treatment provide the best chances for recovery.
Updated – 2016