Barbie’s negative effects on young girls


23 Mar 2015

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        Cindy Jackson currently holds first place in the Guinness Book of World Records for undergoing the most consecutive cosmetic surgeries. While growing up, Cindy considered herself plain and unattractive next to her beautiful sister, so she decided that she had to do something. At age six Cindy was obsessed with looking like Barbie. Cindy stated, "I looked at a Barbie doll and said, 'this is what I want to look like, I want to be her'," (Leung 1). At age twenty-one Cindy packed up and moved to London, England, where she wanted to start a new, prettier life. It took over thirty-one surgeries, fourteen years, and five hundred thousand dollars to become the "human Barbie." Now she has her own website, book, and multi-million dollar friends, at the expense of her body.

Cindy Jackson is an example of how far people are willing to go to look perfect in this society. Beauty is distorted by the media and by the toy industry. In today's society skinnier is better, and people are willing to go through anything to achieve this. Children should not be exposed to these ideas. Instead, children should just be kids. Putting the Barbie doll into the hands of children teaches them that they need to look like her: perfect. Although, Barbie is not the only sole cause of low self satisfaction but is a contributing factor. Barbie has been proven to give children who play with her lower self-esteem and induce increased desires to look skinnier. Barbie has negative influences on body image and causes lower body satisfaction levels among young girls, by giving children false pretenses and pressures about being skinny and perfect.

Barbie is the most successful toy of the twentieth century and the alleged icon of female beauty (Kuther 39). Most girls from the ages three to ten have at least had one doll growing up. Although, she's popular now she is actually based off of another popular doll from Germany. The dolls name was Bild Lilli she was an original cartoon character of an explicit comic strip designed for adult men. "On August 12, 1955 Lilli was first sold in Germany, usually found in smoke shops and a few toy stores," (Bild 1). Barbie was based off of the Lilli doll by Ruth Handler; she journeyed to Europe on vacation and bought a few Lilli dolls. When she returned back to New York Handler re-designed the doll to make Barbie, which was named after her granddaughter Barbara. Now Barbie is the most sold doll in the world, Barbie is a 1.5 million dollar per-year industry (Dittmar 283).

Barbie gives children a sense of low self-esteem. Three developmental psychologists exposed one hundred twenty-six English children from ages five to eight to a study of how Barbie influences body image. They were exposed to either Barbie dolls, Emme dolls (a more normal proportioned doll), or no dolls and then completed assignments based on what they saw. Helga Dittmar concludes, "Girls exposed to Barbie reported lower body esteem and greater desire for a thinner body shape than girls in the other exposure conditions" (284). Dittmar continues, "even if dolls cease to function as aspiring role models for older girls, early exposure to dolls epitomizing an unrealistically thin body ideal may damage girls' body image, which would contribute to an increased risk of disordered eating and weight cycling" (290). This study proves the fact that Barbie has some kind of hold over kids. Since girls play with these dolls they are the most influenced by her since they are so young. If we show our children these images and tell them to play with them, they will show some sort of idolizing to the dolls.

Handler's granddaughter Stacey has written a book about her complications with living in the shadows of the Barbie doll. She has had many challenges maintaining her weight to blend into the family. Stacey Handler has experienced the life after Barbie as it has been in her life personally. Her book The Body Burden, Living In the Shadow of Barbie reveals her personal story of a lifetime battle with body image. She openly discloses her own feelings about the Barbie doll, her grandmother's seemingly innocent "perfect" creation. She shares her moments of low self-esteem, including fears, insecurities, and distorted body image that have been bestowed on her (213).

She discusses society's unrealistic body images and how hard it is for girls to adjust and love themselves for who they are (215). For the first few chapters she expresses her feelings through poems and rhyming songs (1). Handler writes, "They never see behind the curtains that hide all my imperfections... I was removed from the shelves where the perfect me ...remained without a single tear... I worked all day and night to get rid of my excess cellulite until I looked... perfect in the eyes of society" (12-13). Stacey felt overwhelmed by what her grandmother had invented. She was constantly dieting and practicing unhealthy habits of losing the excess weight.

Secondly, includes the controversial information of the Barbie. This includes the real life Barbie and her measurements. Barbie was designed to look flawless because why would a child play with a doll with blemishes or cracked dry skin. These dolls are made to look perfect and almost robotic (one looking exactly like the other). Even though Barbie has recently turned fifty years old she still looks like she is twenty. She stays so young only because children would not play with a grandmother looking doll, it would be out of their likely hood to play with her. The children would not look up to her. Her body figure is very controversial because it demonstrates a tiny waist, long legs, ample bosom, and flowing blond locks (Winterman 1). Some argue her body shape would be unobtainable and unsustainable if scaled up to life-size.

Denise Winterman states, "They claim she would not be able to stand up because her body frame would be so unbalanced. A real life Barbie would simply fall over" .A study at Southern Australia University suggest the likelihood of a woman having Barbie's body shape is one in one hundred thousand so not impossible, but extremely rare ( Winterman 1). Winterman claims, "Researchers at Finland's University Central Hospital in Helsinki say if Barbie were life size she would lack the seventeen to twenty-two percent body fat required for a woman to menstruate. So again, not an unachievable figure, but certainly not a healthy one" . If Barbie were a real person, she would stand five foot two inches and weigh approximately one hundred ten pounds. Her waist would measure a remarkable 20 inches, her chest thirty-eight inches, and her hips thirty-four inches (Kuther 322).

Third toys give children an influence especially at younger ages. Barbie is indeed advertised to children who are young, mainly three to ten year olds. Children who play with toys at aged three to eight are said to be influenced more from the toys they play with than the ten year olds advertised too also (Duffy 1). Judith Duffy suggests that girls as young as five worry about their weight after playing with unrealistically slim figures such as the Barbie . Duffy's article is a summarization of facts based on girl's ideal of beauty within the past five years. For example, a recent study performed on one hundred thirty fifteen-year-old Scottish girls has revealed that around fifty two percent considered themselves to be "too fat", and twenty-nine percent were actively trying to lose weight . This is outrageous considering that fifteen year olds are just beginning their high school career. These teenagers should be more concentrated on their studies than on their need to be perfect and size two.

Some writers, feminists and psychologists think Barbie is a positive role model and a healthy image for young girls to have. For example, Deb Mehecke writer of the article "Rethinking Barbie," explains that Barbie gives children a chance to use their imaginations and the opportunity to mother something . She also claims, Barbie allows young women to dream about all of the possibilities, Barbie can be a doctor, an astronaut, a banker, a lawyer, a nurse, a gymnast etc..." . Children do like to mother their toys and pretend they are real, but do we have to give our children such an inappropriate doll. We could give our children a water baby or a cabbage patch doll, why do we insist they take care of such a glamorous doll?

Developmental psychologist Julia Griffin stated her idea of Barbie in her article "Academics Like to Play with Barbie too." Griffin explains Barbie is essential to a girl's development in a social interaction along with social values . Instead of Barbie being the essential part of a child's life, parents should help their children develop social interaction and social value skills. Many people think Barbie has nothing to do with eating disorders and the negative body image in young girls. Mattel, the company that produces the doll denies any and all negative accusations with Barbie and the negative affects it rings to the children who play with her.

Solutions are a must with this issue such solutions are: alternate dolls for children and young teenagers, parent responsibility and positive reinforcement of body image, and companies need to make dolls more realistic. Some alternate dolls for young girls would be the Groovy Girl dolls, and the Cabbage Patch Kid dolls, and for the older age groups the American Girl Doll and Emme.

The Groovy Girl dolls are sold at Target stores nationwide, and sell for about sixteen to nineteen dollars. These dolls can be considered expensive but they resemble children, in appropriate clothing and offer great values to children. The editor for the savvymom website and co-founder of the Groovy Girls is Victoria Pericon who appears on the official website she states," With three children of my own, I am constantly trying to filter the messages y kids are getting from television, their peers, the Internet, magazines, and movies. My daughter, especially, is surrounded by confusing messages that make it difficult for her to develop a strong sense and a healthy body image. The Groovy Girl dolls helped my daughter find her inner beauty in a respectful way," ( This website has a parent's option which has ways to help your daughter learn to make good decisions along with characteristics parents should enforce. The Cabbage Patch Kid dolls are harder to find but they are sold at Wal-Mart and Target stores along with other with other toy stores nationwide. They sell for about ten to fifteen dollars depending on the doll and accessories included. These dolls are positive for little children because they are realistic in their appearance according to the child's age group, and they can care for them properly.

The American Girl dolls are by far the most educational and most expensive. These dolls are designed to teach children about a defined time period. For example, The Great Depression and the 70's dolls Kit and Julie. Although, these dolls are highly expensive and are more classy and high end of the doll market they include a lot of valuable information and insight into the girls influence. The final alternate doll would be the Emme doll. This doll is sold online and in select stores and is priced between twenty and thirty-five dollars. The optional extra outfits can cost anywhere from fifty to ninety dollars. These dolls are the most proportionate to an average healthy woman which makes this doll the best dolls for growing and changing children to teenagers.

In conclusion, Barbie indeed became a staple of today's society based on her popularity but she is becoming a factor of low self-esteem in young girls. If we act now we can stop the increase in this matter before it gets even worse.

Anonymous. "Bild Lilli History. 10, Apr. 2001.10, Nov 2009

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  • Duffy, Judith. "Barbie's Figure gives Young Girls a Desire to have a Thinner Body." 12 Jun.2005.CBS, Web. 23 Sept. 2009.
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