Britannica Encyclopedia states that “Barbie is a plastic doll, 11.9 inches tall, with the figure of an adult woman that was introduced in 1959 by Mattel Inc.” Since Barbie’s creation, the doll has been scrutinized by many for her unrealistic body proportions and superficiality—her endless supply of clothes, shoes, houses, and many other accessories. Today, Barbie is a “symbol of consumer capitalism and is a global brand," according to Britannica Encyclopedia. But not every country is mesmerized by Barbie’s charm. In 1995, Saudi Arabia banned the sale and purchasing of Barbies because it violated strict dress code for women.
Maybe the Saudi Arabians are on to something bigger, maybe Barbie isn’t just a toy, maybe she has a great influence and psychological effect on the young girls of the world and the those girls who will turn in to women. Barbie has negative influence on young girls and makes them self-conscious about their physical appearance because of Barbie’s unrealistic body features.
A psychology experiment was done in the U.K. in 2006 by psychology professors Helga Dittmar from the University of Sussex, Suzanne Ive from the University of Sussex, and Emma Halliwell of the University of the West of England. Their findings from their experiment have been published in Developmental Psychology in 2006. Their study is also a part of the American Psychological Association her in the U.S. Their experiment is called “Does Barbie Make Girls Want to Be Thin? The Effect of Experimental Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5- to 8-Year-Old Girls.”
In their experiment “a total of 162 girls, from ages 5 to age 8, were exposed to images of either Barbie Dolls, Emme dolls (U.S. size 16), or no dolls (baseline control) and then completed assessments of body image." The professors discovered that those exposed to Barbie doll images produced “lower self-esteem and a greater desire for a thinner body shape than in the other exposed conditions.” Although, the oldest girls did not have an immediate negative impact from the Barbie doll images. The study concluded that “these findings imply that, even if dolls cease to function as aspirational 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."
Barbie is to blame for women developing body dysmorphic disorder. Psychologists say it's possible that exposure to Barbies at a young age can trigger this disease later in life. Body dysmorphic disorder is a disease which causes the person to obsess over something they don’t like about their body—which may be extremely minor or unnoticeable to others. This is the disease that physiologist Debbie believe drove Heidi Montag to go under the knife to get her Barbie body. More and more women are mutilating their bodies with surgery at a younger age like Montag to get the “ideal Barbie-Doll body”. Journalist Rachel Rettner added that in 2008 “an estimated 750,000 cosmetic procedures, 271,000 of which were surgical, were performed in people aged 20 to 29, according to the ASPS. And 81,900 surgical procedures were performed on children and young adults aged 13 to 19." These statistics are truly shocking that young women feel the need to change their body to meet unrealistic expectations of our Barbie culture.
As a child most girls played with Barbie dolls and if they had not, their views of what is considered beautiful and acceptable for women would be different, as well as how they felt about body image. Most girls don’t understand the doll's influence on the way they view women until they are much older. Some have even taken extreme measures and mutilated their body to mimic the doll. In 2010, reality T.V. Star Heidi Montag underwent 10 plastic surgeries all at one time when she was only 23-years-old. Rettner interviewed Montag in her article, “Heidi Montag’s plastic Surgery: Obsession or Addiction?” to find out what motivated the already naturally stunning Heidi to go under the knife.
Rettner stated that “as for what’s driving her and others, some researchers say the media is part of the problem, bombarding us with images of this ideal Barbie-Doll person that’s unattainable without nips and tucks and more." Montag stated that “she is not addicted to plastic surgery.” Psychologist Debbie would disagree. “I think fundamentally, when someone goes on for many, many, many, procedures at a young age they’re trying to change something about themselves, they want to become a new person."
Montag has stated on many occasions that she just wanted to “look like Barbie." After her surgeries Montag struggled with her body image more than ever before her surgery. On her reality show viewers watched as many of her friends and family said she was beautiful post-surgery and that it was unnecessary—making Montag regret her surgeries. Barbie has set the standard for the media to show Barbie-like models that make women feel self-conscious of their bodies. Would the media show more realistically proportioned women if Barbie had never been around? It would change how the media began to market women and models.
These psychologists have proven the negative effects Barbie can have on young girls and how it can affect them later in life like Montag. The whole section of the Developmental Psychology book is packed with different psychologists and their findings of the impact Barbie has on young girls. My initial statement that Barbie had an influence on what girls considered beautiful and acceptable later in life was stated in the book. “For young children, fantasy and play are vital parts of socialization in which they internalize ideals and values, and dolls provide a tangible image of the body that can be internalized as part of the child’s developing self-concept and body image.”
It is a parent’s job to censor the toys they allow their young children to play with in order to protect them from psychological and physically damaging Barbie dolls and other toys similar. Because, as stated in the book Developmental Psycology, “If Barbie were flesh-and-blood woman, her waist would be 39% smaller than that of anorexic patients, and her body weight would be so low that she would not be able to menstruate."
However, Barbie can be seen as somewhat encouraging and inspirational to a child, for a female role model. Barbie can be considered a positive role model for girls because she has so many careers. There is astronaut Barbie, Teacher Barbie, Race Car Barbie, Lawyer Barbie, Architect Barbie etc. Professions usually consisting of men, to a young girl it can inspire them to be anything they want; it provides a sense that a girl can do anything a boy can. If Barbie had more realistically proportional body and less superficiality she may have a positive immediate effect on young girls and could provide a healthy body image and sense of female empowerment. But Mattel has been marketing the ultra slim doll for decades and doesn’t planning on changing her body.
There is a doll called Emme doll which is a plus-sized doll that has many careers and accessories like Barbie, but who does it all at a U.S. size 16. And more and more mothers are turning to this doll to expose to their young daughters in hopes of preserving a healthy body image and self-esteem. The Emme doll is inspired by a plus-sized super model and endorsed by The American Dietetic Association. Robin Roberts mentions in his article “Emme Doll Aims for Healthy Body Image” that the doll is “helping promote a positive body image for girls."
An interview with Carissa Hernandez, a mother of two girls ages 8 and 13, who only lets her daughters play with Emme dolls supports the idea that Barbie is bad for her children. “I only allow my daughters to play with Emme dolls because I don’t want them to compare themselves to a Barbie doll and want to be like her," Hernandez says. "She’s twig thin and society’s ideal of the perfect woman. I want my daughters to feel beautiful as they are and encourage them to have a healthy body image."
Hernandez was familiar with the experiment done by the three physiology professors in England. She had done some research and discovered her feelings about Barbie and their negative effects were true. “As a child I was allowed to play with dolls my mother didn’t think anything of it," Hernandez says. "But even now I think it made me have body image issues. I was never satisfied with my looks as a teen and I think it all started when I was a little girl with that perfect, dumb doll. And society just took advantage of my insecurities and encouraged my unhealthy idea of what the perfect body is."
Hernandez was asked if playing with Barbie made her want to change her body in a drastic way. “I think so," Hernandez says. "I mean, I had plastic surgery about five years ago. I got breast implants because I wanted my breasts to look like how they did before I had children. That’s why I make my children play with Emme dolls I don’t want them to feel the need to change their body. I want them to love themselves. And I want all parents to have their children play with appropriate toys so that they can protect them from harm. It’s a parent’s job to protect our children.”
Since the Emme doll has been proven to not have negative effects on young girls and the Barbie doll has, parents need to be more conscious of the toys they expose to their children because the effects can be disastrous to their psychological development and influence them in adulthood. Parents like Hernandez protect women and children from the Barbie doll. The government should ban overly-thin and unhealthy toys that distort children’s body image and get the media to use more realistically proportioned models.
"Barbie." Introduction. Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Credoreference. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009. 1. Print.
Dittmar, Suzanne Ive, and Emma Halliwell. "Does Barbie Make Girls Want to Be Thin? The Effect of Experimental Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5-to 8-Year- Old Girls" Developmental Psychology. 2nd ed. Vol. 42. Brighton, 2006. 283-92. Print.
Hernandez, Carissa S. "Interview with Carissa Hernandez." Personal interview. 23 May 2012.
Rettner, Rachael. “Heidi Montag’s Plastic Surgery: Obsession or Addiction?” Live Science.com. Identity Guard, 21 Jan. 2010. Web. 8 May. 2012.
Roberts, Robin. “Emme Doll Aims for Healthy Body Image.” Online Article. ABC News. ABC
News Network. Web. 8 May 2012.