Barbie and Beauty?

I am somewhat torn on the subject of Barbie because although it sends negative expectations of female bodies to young girls, nonetheless, the idea of controlling one’s body and changing it to fit into cultural norms has been widespread throughout the world and across different time periods and is, thus, not something unique to our current culture and Barbie itself. Urla and Swedlund argue that this fixation on the domination of our body is “a condition [that is] dramatically accentuated under consumer capitalism” (277). Our current culture and the need of consumption and ‘improving’ our body, therefore, are largely attributable to things like ‘Barbie’ that present us with a fictional and yet perfect dream world that we strive to come close to by buying certain products. However, the notion of changing and modifying our bodies, sometimes in painful ways, is something that is very widespread across history and the world. Burmese long neck tribes of Thailand, for example, find women with the appearance of long necks beautiful. It is thus a tradition for women to elongate their necks and depress their collar and shoulder bones, in order to create the look. Other historical examples are the skin bleaching during the times of Elizabeth I, who later on died due to whitening her skin with white lead for many years. Another is the tradition of Chinese foot binding, which lasted for around a thousand years before the atrocious and deforming practice was stopped (I’ll spare you of pictures on this one). My point is that women have been subjugated to body modification all over the world, and that Barbie or advertisements nowadays are just a different form of this somewhat cultural practice. I definitely don’t think that it is ok. But I want to shed light on the fact that it is not just our North-American culture and our current state of increased consumption that creates this need to make ourselves prettier and more attractive through surgeries and diets. I think that the reason behind our actions is ingrained deeper into our norms than that.


Having said that, I do think that Barbie teaches girls a negative body image and I don’t think that it is possible for children to play with the doll without being affected by the subtle messages that this toy is sending out. The Barbie brand, including all of the toy cars, Kens, Barbie houses, etc,  states that girls ought to be white, pretty, fashionable and extremely skinny to have a happy and beautiful life, filled with “dates, proms, and weddings” (Urla and Swedlund 281). The field of Cognitive Science has shown that our mind is influenced and affected by our surroundings, without us even noticing it, or ever acknowledging this influence. Therefore, children’s toys have a high power over them. Urla and Swedlund explain that “Barbie’s purpose is to let little girls dream [and] that dream continues to be fundamentally about leisure and consumption, not production” (284). It is highly unrealistic to have a life like Barbie and/or even look like her, which can affect girls to look at themselves and their lives and feel inadequate or incomplete. This in turn, pressures them into trying to come as closely as possible to the image of Barbie and other similar images of females in our culture, and gives way to an endless cycle of dieting, depression, eating disorders and low self-confidence levels. Hamilton states that “if women had measurements proportionate to the ubiquitous Barbie Doll […] they would not have enough body fat to menstruate regularly” (163). It is horrendous to imagine then that little girls and grown women strive to be like Barbie, whose thighs in real life would be about as thick as my forearms. How could a young girl, who is too thin to menstruate, then have energy to ride bikes with her friends, climb trees or run through a session of ‘Hike and Seek’? In our world, we shouldn’t be teaching any young child what they should look like or what they should be doing with their lives. We should be encouraging love for oneself and one’s body, so that we can foster a society of happy and self-fulfilled adults. Unfortunately, Barbie contributes to the contrary, and therefore, ought not to be part of any child’s toy box.


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