Barbie’s Not-So-Positive Influence

Photo by Matthew Rolston

By Emily Mathis

One of the most read blogs on our site is from a while ago and is about Barbie’s positive influence. While, I agree that Barbie has some positive effects, I wonder if they outweigh the negative effects she has on body image? Recently I came across this picture and article about the amount of plastic surgery this woman would need to look like Barbie.

I found the picture thought provoking. What messages and images are we sending to little girls and boys, for that matter, about what a female’s body should look like? Are there women out there striving for this unattainable ideal?

I am left feeling confused. Should we discourage playing with one of America’s favorite toys? Or should we hope that messages of body acceptance are loud enough to get through?

I think of all the hours I spent playing with Barbie when I was young. Then I think about all the struggles I have had with body image throughout my teens and now into my twenties.  Is there a correlation?

According to the article, which mainly focuses on how Barbie affects plastic surgery numbers, there is a correlation between our culture’s distorted view of beauty and the ideal body and plastic surgery rates. With 5% of plastic surgeries being done under the age of 20 and over 13 million body parts being altered last year it seems that something or someone is having a major effect on women’s lives.

Barbie has been around since 1959. That’s over 50 years of girls and boys who grew up with Barbie. If you look at all the different Barbies, they all are thin and perfect. This can set a very unrealistic ideal for what a woman should look like. And it doesn’t just affect girls. Young boys who see their sisters or playmates playing with the doll may grow up to think that is what a woman should look like.

Female body image is a precarious thing. Besides Barbie there are the Disney princesses, who are also very beautiful by society’s standards and thin as well. Fairytales and Barbie are strong influences in young girls’ lives. I can’t count how many times I played with my Sleeping Beauty Barbie doll or how many times I watched Cinderella. Luckily, I never considered plastic surgery but what about the girls and young women out there with access to plastic surgery who think that looking like one of their childhood playmates is the key to getting everything they wanted?

I am not blaming Barbie or the princesses for all of this but I think they play a role in rising rates of plastic surgery and eating disorders. I think that there needs to be a serious look at what images and messages are being put out there. It seems like Barbie gets a lot of play while messages of self-love and body acceptance don’t.

With eating disorders posing a constant threat and general dissatisfaction with their bodies, can young girls and women really afford to have Barbie as any kind of a role model?