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Barbie Doll Promotes an Unrealistic Idea of Body Image and Lifestyle Research Paper

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Updated: May 24th, 2019

Barbie Doll is indeed an iconic figure. She has had enormous influence on her fans for the last 50 years she has existed. Despite being a doll, Barbie is a multi dimensional character: she has attracted both love and hate in equal measure. Yet, she affects people differently. To some, she is an icon of liberation. Her role as a modern character who shuns the traditional women roles motivates young girls to look beyond these roles, if they are to fulfill their full potential.

However, there exists significant evidence to indicate that the Barbie Doll is symbolic of ideal and unrealistic human desires. Although feminists think that Barbie doll is an icon of women liberation, Barbie doll promotes a carefree lifestyle, pop culture and unrealistic idea of body image since she posses the ideal female body, has material wealth, lives a carefree fun-filled life and is an icon of epic romance.

Feministic thinkers believe that Barbie Doll, instead of being an iconic figure that promotes a carefree lifestyle and unrealistic female body image, is an icon of liberation of the modern woman. While feminists acknowledge Barbie’s exaggerated physical attributes, they assert that Barbie is just a doll and that she cannot have negative influence over teenagers’ eating habits, as claimed by many scholars. Most of the young girls interviewed assert that they rejected Barbie due to a number of reasons.

These include the fact that Barbie either reminded them of their childhood that they no longer felt part of, or because Barbie was symbolic of the sexualized adult female like their mother (Talbot n.pagn). Most girls do not want to have a toy that resembles their mother. This argument is based on the fact that in the 1960s, there were no fads for junk food, neither was there fancy cars nor exorbitant fashion. As such, the negative effects associated with Barbie Doll emanate from personal weaknesses.

Additionally, studies conducted by feminist researchers reveal that playing with Barbie Doll during childhood does not make one adopt pop, consumer and material cultures as claimed by many scholars. To give evidence of this, feminist scholars interviewed women about their earlier association with Barbie. Some of the women claimed that they looked forward to getting married, having children and playing the traditional feminine roles.

This is despite having played with Barbie dolls during childhood. Instead of negatively affecting young women, Barbie liberates them. As evidenced by Prof Anne Marie, playing with Barbie liberated her from the notion that electrical engineering was not a career befitting a woman. To protect her Barbie from her sister, Prof Anne constructed a Barbie house and installed a working alarm system.

This led her to win prize in her schools science fair. Additionally, the fact that Barbie’s career life ventured into piloting, medicine, entrepreneurship acts as motivation to women to explore careers previously thought as masculine. In this case Barbie liberates women (Reid-Walsh and Mitchell 175). Indeed, Barbie Doll can be interpreted in many ways. However, there exists sufficient evidence to prove that she promotes an unrealistic idea of an ideal feminine body image and the ideal lifestyle.

Studies done on Barbie Doll’s physical attributes suggest that she promotes an unrealistic idea of an ideal feminine body image. These Studies reveal that Barbie Doll possesses an attractive body, which is also symbolic of good health, vitality and beauty. The attributes are portrayed through Barbie Doll’s perfect but impossible to achieve physical appearance. Barbie Doll possesses the perfect figure desirable to any woman Kuther and McDonald (39-51).

Studies done at Helsinki University Central Hospital take Barbie Doll’s actual measurements and calculate her actual human size using the scale of 1:6. Barbie Doll’s actual height is taken to be 11.5 inches. Using this scale, this makes her human size to be 5 feet 9 inches, the perfect height for an ideal woman. Additionally, the same scale reveals that the human size Barbie doll would have the perfect combination of body measurement.

For instance her chest is calculated to be 36 inches, with an 18 inch waist and hips measuring 33 inches. These dimensions would give her an average weight of 110 lbs, the perfect human size beauty (Winterman n.pagn). Kuther and McDonald (39-51) explain that toys are symbolic of adult female beauty, which is adored by young girls. Girls also hold a secret craving for such beauty. Upon attainment of adulthood, girls are likely to do anything to resemble the perfect image embodied in the toy.

As such, since playing with toys such as Barbie Doll involves a lot of dramatization, girls gradually internalize Barbie Doll sexualized roles body. This would make Barbie Doll the utmost symbol of perfect physical beauty. Research reveals that many of the popular models and others who want to achieve perfect beauty model their looks along Barbie Doll’s (Schick, Rima and Calabrese 74 – 81). This usually has devastating health effects such as bulimia anorexia.

While Barbie’s physical attributes promotes an impossible-to-attain physical appearance, Barbie’s talk advances the concept of a carefree fun-filled lifestyle, since her dialogue is laced with references to partying, shopping and holidays. After years of improvements on the appearance of Barbie doll, Barbie’s Doll’s manufacturer Mattel Inc. introduced the talking doll branded Teen Talk Barbie. Teen Talk Barbie was programmed with a minimum of 270 phrases, and could randomly utter at most four of them.

While the idea was meant to popularize the Barbie Doll amongst her fans, messages contained in some of the phrases elicited sharp criticisms especially from scholars. According to the feminist critics some of the phrases encouraged girls to shun positive attributes by advancing ideologies which encourage girls to adopt a carefree fun-filled lifestyle.

Feminists argue that popular phrases uttered by the doll promote ideologies which discourage hard work and also promote negative gender stereotyping. For instance one of the popular remarks by Teen Talk Barbie is “Maths is Tough” which is taken to mean that maths is difficult. Scholars from American Association of University Women argue that by uttering this statement, Teen Talk Barbie alludes to the fact that women are not favored as men are to handle maths.

This phrase was followed by other such as “Let’s go Shopping”. This creates an impression that shopping is a more valuable experience than doing maths (Rogers 45). Other phrases uttered by Teen Talk Barbie, and which caused concern amongst scholars and parents alike include “Let’s have a campfire!” and “We could take a Hawaiian vacation! Wouldn’t you love to be a lifeguard?” (Bennett 4- 24).

As evidenced by Talbot (n.pagn), dolls have significant influence on the imaginative power of young girls. As such, Teen Talk Barbie has had a major influence on young girls who crave for a fun-filled freestyle life.

Other than the ideal body and attractive feminine physique, Barbie Doll promotes an unrealistic image of perfection as well as pop culture since not only does she posses classy cars and expensive clothes but also hold multiple prestigious jobs but also, as a toy, she is a symbol of children pop culture.

Barbie holds numerous prestigious jobs such as commercial airlines operator, flight attendant, astronaut, pilot and others not traditionally held by women (Kuther and McDonald 39-51). While critics argue that this portrays her as a role model for woman to venture into non traditional careers, through these careers, Barbie Doll projects an ideal image of unrealistic life image since it is impossible to hold so many prestigious jobs within ones lifetime.

Additionally, as explained by Damico and Quay (604-620) Barbie Doll is one of the most popular artifacts which promote pop culture amongst children. As people grown old, pop culture does not dissipate (Damico and Quay 604-620). This proves that Barbie Doll exposes children to crave for the unrealistic professional lifestyles and pop culture

Barbie Doll’s relationship with her family friends and boyfriends projects the ideal social relations since she has not only has a romantic boyfriend but also loving parents. While Barbie’s social identity is portrayed in a series of fictional biographies developed by Random House, the pervasive influence of such image was discovered to exist within tonnage girls long after they ceased playing with Barbie.

In this study it was fond out that girls own at least one Barbie Doll. The girls were also found to have engaged in Barbie play. While most of these plays were imaginative, they involved Barbie’s romantic life with her boyfriend Ken, lavish family life, social outing, weddings, dates and any other play that satisfied the girls’ imagination.

Some of the girls went as far as organizing Barbie fashion in shows which Barbie was the ideal model. Additionally some of the girls confessed to have organized prom nights in which Barbie and Ken were the prom king and queens (Kuther and McDonald 39-51). These imaginations seem to have been shaped by Barbie and Ken relationship as portrayed through these biographies.

Ken, like Barbie, is a fashionista. Random House presents them as the perfect couple (Barbie Media 2), an image that seems to pervasively dominate the girls’ imagination. As explained by Kuther and McDonald (39-51) play is a vital tool for growth and development of children. Children internalize social norms, expectations as well as developed identities. As such by playing with Barbie dolls, girls develop a sense of increasingly sexualized gender roles. As such, they are much liked to search for the perfect boyfriend like Ken.

Understanding that Barbie doll promotes an unreal female body image and lifestyle is important towards understanding some of the behavior amongst women. As explained by Varney (161) Barbie’s perfection condenses perfect womanhood into one personality. In this regard Barbie doll denies young girls the opportunity to discover who they really are.

This seems an appropriate explanation for women’s tendency to starve themselves aiming to achieve the perfect feminine body. Additionally, modern pop and material culture, especially amongst consumer seems to emanate from a person’s childhood association with Barbie. These scenario explain that dolls are significant source of identify. As such, they can be used effectively to mold a person’s identify.

Works Cited

Barbie Media. “Ken. Every doll needs one”. n.d. Web.

Bennett, David. “Getting the Id to Go Shopping: Psychoanalysis, Advertising, Barbie Dolls, and the Invention of the Consumer Unconscious”. Public Culture 2005 17(1): 1-26. Print.

Damico, Amy and Sara Quay. “Stories of Boy Scouts, Barbie Dolls, and Prom Dresses: Challenging College Students to Explore the Popular Culture of Their Childhood”. Teachers College Record, 108.4 (2006) p604-620. Web.

Reid-Walsh, Jacqueline and Claudia Mitchell. “Just a Doll’?: ‘Liberating’ Accounts of Barbie-Play”. Review of Education, Pedagogy & Cultural Studies, 22. 2 (2000) p 175. Web.

Rogers, Mary Ann. Barbie Culture. London: SAGE Publications, 1999. Print.

Schick, Vanessa Brandi Rima and Sarah Calabrese. “Evulvalution: The Portrayal of Women’s External Genitalia and Physique across Time and the Current Barbie Doll Ideals”. Journal of Sex Research, (2009) 74-81. Web.

Talbot, Margaret. “Little Hotties: Barbie’s New Rivals”. The New Yorker, (2006)pp, 74–` 83. Web. Nov 2011.

Varney, Wendy. “BarbieAustralis: The Commercial reinvention of national culture”. Social Identities 4.2 (1998), p161. Web. Nov. 24, 2011.

Winterman, Denise. “What would a real life Barbie look like?” BBC News, 6 March 2009. Web. Nov. 24, 2011.

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