Barbies have been around since 1959, and probably almost every girl in the US has been handed one at some point. I’ve also heard a lot of girls say they can be fun, but that doesn’t mean they are the best, or even a good option at all if you’re looking for engaging, empowering play for your daughter.
Barbie started out as a teenage fashion model doll, which explains her unattainable shape. Although it seems that Barbie’s inventor (a mom and co-founder of Mattel) seems to have had positive intentions, that’s not the way Barbie’s effect on girls has manifested. Studies have shown that when girls, especially between the ages of 5 and 8 are exposed to Barbie, they see her as a role model, and end up with "lower body esteem and greater desire for a thinner body shape" than girls who were not exposed to Barbie. Even though older girls grow out of seeing Barbie as something to emulate, the damage Barbie caused their self-esteem often remains, which can ”contribute to an increased risk of disordered eating and weight cycling.” Despite Barbie’s careers she’s had over the years, she always has high heel-shaped feet and loads of makeup, sending the message that even if a woman is an athlete, a firefighter, or the president, she can only do it while being conventionally attractive to an extent that would kill her if she were a real human. Not to mention the overtly detrimental "math class is tough" Barbie that was circulating for a while. Ack!!
So what can we do?
- Have discussions about Barbie with girls you know who play with them. Point out things that are unrealistic about her:
- She can only either eat OR breathe, because her neck is too thin to house both a trachea and an esophagus.
- Her feet would be a size 3 if she were human.
- She would be unable to walk because of her unbalanced form.
- She only has room for one bone in both her arms and legs.
- Her stomach is freakishly flat, unable, it would seem, to hold necessary organs under there.
- She is hairless.
- Her feet are constantly shaped like they’re in high heels.
- While you’re on the topic of what Barbie’s body can’t do, talk to girls about the wonderful things their bodies can do.
- As difficult as it can be, try to be willing to share some of your “flaws” with girls so that when they become conscious of how their bodies inevitably don’t look how they’re told they should look, they’ll know that that’s normal.
- If your girl is into dolls, look hard for ones that aren’t Barbies. Some that we love can be found here. They all play sports! Find dolls that relate to her interests to show her you know she can love more than just fashion.
- Visit Any-Body for practical tips on media and body literacy discussions to have with girls, women, and everybody.
Happy body-positive playing!