I’m rather late, but I finally got around to watching Barbie’s latest advertisement. Released last month, Barbie newest commercial featured little girls acting as college professors, veterinarians, and travelling businesswomen. And in doing so, Mattel did a pretty amazing thing. It told girls—who aren’t told enough—that they can be anything they want. Mattel’s platform is large enough, so that this important message was widely disseminated. Little girls across the country saw their aspirations come to life.
But, that commercial still didn’t sell me.
I loved Barbie when I was younger. I collected them; in fact, I referred to my league of dolls as a “family,” designating a mother and deciding what each daughter did for a living. I even play-acted a rivalry between two sisters, both trying to be famous. I loved them. They were fun. But, at 19, I look back at the my skinny, tall, perfect blonde dolls and wonder if they have anything to do with the way I’ll occasionally tug at my belly fat and wince whenever I feel my thighs touch under my skirt. I love my body now more than I did when I was in middle school–even elementary school–but it still took me forever to feel like my stretch marks and my thick thighs were okay. I wonder how many less hours I’d have spent, angrily tugging at ill-fitting clothes over my changing body, or how many shopping trips needn’t have ended in tears if only I’d had known earlier that my body was okay.
And that’s why I’m not about Barbie.
Because, at the end of the day, Barbie still hasn’t changed much in diversity. Its dolls are still tall, skinny, unblemished and still completely unrealistic. I’m not saying that being tall and skinny makes you unrealistic. This world has a variety of body types, and some may be deemed more socially acceptable than others, but Barbie truly is unrealistic in proportion. And, in this way, these dolls continue to damage the health of young girls everywhere, no matter what or who they aspire to be.
We’ve Come A Long Way…But Not Far EnoughThere’s no denying that Barbie dolls have come a long way. CNN reported this June that Mattel has introduced a new line of diverse dolls, featuring eight different skin tones, facial structures, hairstyles and more. Just this September the celebrity Zendaya had a doll made in her honor, featuring her dreadlocks. Various ethnicities are finally starting to be represented, with their various features. However, many of these dolls still feature impossible body standards.
How does the average 19-year-old girl shape up in comparison to Barbie? Not well. In fact, according to Time, if Barbie were real, she would have to walk on all fours and wouldn’t even have room for all of her liver. While it’s likely safe to assume that many girls know that living that way is impossible, there’s no denying that Barbie’s impossible standards still have an effect—a bad one.
More Than “Just a Doll.”
What’s the big deal? It’s just a doll, right? Wrong.
A 2006 study by the University of Sussex found that Barbie dolls do negatively affect the body image of young girls. According to the study, the ultrathin image of the Barbie doll, specifically, “not only lowered young girls’ body esteem but also decreased their satisfaction with their actual body size, making them desire a thinner body.” Another study on Dutch girls aged 6 to 10 found that girls who played with average-sized dolls ate significantly more, no matter their age, compared to girls who played with thinner dolls. While we can’t solely blame Barbie for affecting the body image of young girls, with other forms of media promoting an impossible beauty standard, Barbie still plays a role.
When my younger cousin was diagnosed with an eating disorder last year, she joined the leagues of girls who are diagnosed each year. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, in the U.S. alone, 20 million women (and 10 million men—let’s not forget about Ken) suffer from an eating disorder. By the age of six, while still playing with their Barbies, young girls are already expressing concern about their weight. When these dolls lower the self-esteem of young girls, there’s no telling where they might head.
It’s important to note, in this instance, that I often hear people say that it’s the jobs of moms to make sure their daughters don’t experience a drop in self-esteem based on the media they consume. Mattel has even said this. But, like I’ve said before, Barbie isn’t solely to blame; there is no single cause. But, when we point fingers, there’s a refusal to take responsibility and when we refuse to take responsibility, how can anything change?
Barbie Has a Choice, Too.
In its latest advertisement, Barbie tried to show how they could empower young girls. And they were right—girls can be anything they want to be. However, if Barbie really wants to empower young girls, Mattel needs to begin showing girls that they can different body types, too.
Between hospital visits, both short-term and long-term, my cousin had to put her education on hold and with that, her aspirations as well as her involvement in Girl Scouts. She couldn’t be all the things that the Barbie commercial had said she could be.
I am not calling for all us to burn our Barbies and refuse to buy them for our children, siblings and cousins this upcoming holiday season. I’m calling for pressure to be put on Mattel to do better. To continue in its upward trend in diversity, but showcasing body diversity, too. Keep doing what it’s doing and empowering young girls, but empower them in different ways too. According to Mattel, 90 percent of U.S. girls have owned a Barbie at some point. That’s hundreds of thousands of girls who are being told they can be professors, veterinarians, businesswomen and more. That’s hundreds of thousands of girls who are seeing their aspirations, their dreams, and themselves in those dolls. That’s hundreds of thousands of girls being told their dreams are great and they can achieve them. It’s time to start telling those girls that their bodies are great, too.