When a typical woman thinks back on her childhood, three things quickly come to mind: Spagettio’s, crayons, and a Barbie Doll. To an innocent child, the Barbie is more than just a doll; it often becomes part of a girl’s life. Barbie is a friend, a stylist, a mentor, and even can become a role model for young children. Many Americans can easily reminisce and think of a humorous story about growing up with Barbie dolls. Tales may range from cutting off the blonde, long locks, to bringing the doll with you everywhere you went in the day; or even feeling a sense of loss when your little brother ripped the head off of a favorite doll from your prized collection. Barbie dolls have become a way of life for Americans, and they have shaped the lives of many. Although some may have sweet memories of the doll, the majority of people who played with the doll may have also experienced undesirable side effects. Since the Barbie doll was developed in the 1950’s, the figurines have also impacted the lives of children in some negative ways. Although the doll is technically just a plastic toy, young girls take much more from the Barbie experience than someone could even fathom, and have led millions of girls onto a path of low self-image and poor mental health. The doll has led many girls toward eating disorders, body image issues, physical transformation, and lowered confidence.
Mattel, the company behind the Barbie enterprise, developed the doll in the 1950s. A woman named Ruth Handler was the mastermind behind it all (Stone 12). Ruth seemed to be the polar opposite of a Barbie doll. Ironically, she looked nothing like her, and was even seen as a tomboy throughout childhood. Ruth said, “I didn’t like dolls and never played with them” (Stone 11). Ruth was described as being confident, self-assured, and ambitious, so why would she produce a conceited, “impossibly gorgeous” doll?
Technically, Ruth did not even produce the doll herself. When shopping in Europe in 1956, Ruth spotted a doll in a store window. This figurine was referred to as the Lilli doll, and it arose from a comic strip that ran in a local German newspaper. Lilli was known as a “sexy novelty gift for men, based on a popular comic strip” (Stone 27). The intended audience of this doll was definitely not related to children, therefore, what did Ruth see in it?
Years went by, and eventually Ruth produced the doll. This doll would be 5’9”, and weigh 110 pounds. In addition, her fat percentage would be so low, that she would not be able to menstruate, or live a healthy life (Human Barbie 2). She would literally have to move herself on all fours, because or her distorted proportions (“If Barbie…” 1).
At first, mothers said that they did not like the doll, and they wished their children would remain younger for a little longer. Some girls themselves even described Barbie as being “sharp” and “snobbish” at first, but then the doll spread like wildfire, and no one looked back (Stone 29). Barbie quickly left her mark on America, and became fully immersed in this country’s culture. The creator, Ruth, was making a living off of the doll. Young girls dropped all other toys and focused on the main attraction in their toy box, the beautiful Barbie. Ruth basked in all her glory as young girls gained a plastic new best friend, and quickly fell in love.
Within only a few days after Barbie was introduced, it quickly impacted the lives of millions of girls in a materialistic way. One of the first things to take off was the fashion impact of the doll. Girls thought it was necessary to run to the store and buy many expensive outfits for the doll. Everyone wanted to collect her accessories, and more specifically, they wanted to be just like her. It was not long until the demand for the dolls was sky high. It was almost as if girls were obsessed with the dolls. Things soon took a turn for the worse, as the “Slumber Party Barbie” was launched.
In the early 1960s, just after the Barbie doll officially became popular, Ruth and her staff decided to introduce a new version of the doll, “Slumber Party Barbie”. This doll came with a set that included a diet book, a scale, a hairbrush, and a sign that said, “How to lose weight? Don’t eat” (Slumber 1). In addition, the scale only went up to 110 pounds, which is way below a woman’s average weight in America. Consequently, this was the first time that Barbie was not just a toy, and it raised a lot of concern and problems in America. Quickly, this specific doll was taken off of the market, but its legacy lingered on for seven years. After Mattel’s first mishap, people began to understand that the effects of Barbie may run deeper than any person could have imagined.
Children began to be influenced by the toys and other media as girls were taught that it is desirable to be extremely thin, and all that mattered in life was outer beauty. Mattel received many complaints by parents, and after this was released to the public, researchers ran a multitude of experiments and tests to see if the dolls really had an effect of their body image. “The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness reported that 70 million people worldwide suffer from eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. About 90 percent of those with eating disorders are young woman between the ages of 12 and 25” (Barbie and Body Image 2). During this survey, the women stated that they played with Barbies shortly before they were diagnosed at a young age. Also, the survey stated that 18 out of 25 women who played with Barbies as a child would rather be run over by a truck, then be overweight (2). In another series of research in regard to developmental psychology, scientists exposed young girls to three different types of dolls. The girls, who viewed the Barbie doll, reported lowered body self-esteem, and a stronger desire to be thin than the girls who looked at the other dolls. They found that the Barbie is a role model for young children, and those exposed have an increased risk of disordered eating and weight cycling (Hoskins 1). One mother found a very upsetting post in her eight year old daughter’s room. Sitting beside a collection of Barbies, Polly Pockets, and other toys was a list of her new “Diyet” techniques. Her mother was awestruck that her daughter would be that greatly influenced by the doll, even before she was able to spell the word diet (“An epidemic”). Children easily were swayed by their role models, and if they aspired to be like Barbie, they would have to be anorexic in order to achieve her look.
You could search the world and not find one person who looks like Barbie, that is, until you meet Valeria Lukyanova. She played with Barbies at a young age, and she obsessed over them. Soon enough, she aspired to be one, and she altered her body in order to look like the classic doll. But, she refuses to say that she had any surgery done. Barbies not only affected her physically, but emotionally, as she does not even have the courage to say that she received plastic surgery. She said, “Many people say bad things about people who want to perfect themselves. It’s hard work, but they dismiss it as something done by surgeons or computer artists…Some people even spread rumors about me and retouch my pictures to hurt me. But I don’t take them seriously. I’m even flattered! It’s what success is like. I’m happy I seem unreal to them, it means I’m doing a good job” (Human Barbie 1).
In addition to extreme examples such as Valeria, Barbies have negatively affected more people than you could even realize, including me. I played with Barbies at a young age, and I aspired to be her. With her flowing blonde hair, beautiful body, and great fashion sense, I was in awe of her. I seemed to be the opposite, I had short, dark hair, freckles, and I was a chubby child. Throughout the years, I have struggled with self-esteem, eating disorders, and body image. I think this had a lot to do with the dolls that I played with at a young age; in addition to other negative influences from the media. It is important to know that Barbies do not just cause eating disorders. The doll’s other materialistic characteristics have the potential to negatively impact the lives of young girls. Barbie is known for having a plethora of expensive clothing, and all that seems to matter to a child who plays with her is her perfect physical appearance. A lot of dolls enable children to actually apply makeup to them, and also dress them, so it is not just the focus around weight that can be harmful. Barbies have affected more than just the special cases of the people who we hear about in the news. It is virtually impossible for anyone who plays with one not to try and measure themselves against her idealized perfection.
Barbies negatively affect millions of people every day, and attempting to be perfect is a goal with traumatic consequence, that will eventually lead to misery. Many people attribute this suffering to the doll itself. It is amazing how a small piece of plastic can be so powerful. A psychiatrist named Carole Lieberman thinks that Barbie has been the most destructive force on the self-image of woman all over the globe (Stone 12). The doll impacts children in a multitude of ways, and it causes more negativity then positivity. Meanwhile, Barbie does not always offend everyone. Some believe that the benefit of having a Barbie doll outweigh the costs. Some people do not grow emotionally attached to their toy, and they just enjoy doing things such as dressing Barbie, or combing her hair. Some parents actually think Barbies teach young girls how to be successful. They believe that the diverse selection and multitude of doll themes can yield a chance for young girls to “become anything they want to be”. A little girl could own a schoolteacher Barbie, a businesswoman Barbie, veterinarian, ballet dancer, or even an astronaut. Although the clothes may change, the structure of the doll is the same; it just depends on your viewpoint and outlook of the doll as a whole. To some, Barbie represents a woman with choices. In addition, after the overwhelming amount of complaints and pressure, Mattel actually was persuaded to produce a different type of doll. This doll is Barbie, but with real life, womanly proportions. When holding these two dolls next to each other, the new invention looks overweight. Although Mattel made this doll with the hope of increasing the diversity in their customer base, people just continued to buy the original Barbie. There was a lack of advertising for this doll, and most people did not even know about it because Mattel wanted it to be that way. Therefore, it essentially did nothing.
Barbies have negatively affected the lives of many children. As a parent, it is important to monitor your child’s use of the Barbie, and make sure your daughter learns about the potential damaging effects it may have. Some suggest not exposing your child to the doll at all, and instead believe it is better to let young girls play with a more conservative, practical toy. Barbies have had a more negative effect on Americans than a positive one. They have shaped the way girls grow up, and they have altered the mental health of the many children and young ladies. How many more provocative dolls does Mattel have to produce before they are forced to take the doll off the market completely? How fast do we want our children to grow up? The creation and the continued existence of Barbies raise many questions about society and values, and have lead many girls down the wrong path since the fifties.
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