The New Barbie?

Nicki Minaj is a new, emerging rap artist. She calls herself the new “Barbie.” Some little girls are now calling themselves Barbie because they look up to Nicki. Is this the kind of role model you want your daughter to be idolizing?

I’ve noticed that some girls want to call themselves “Barbie” like Nicki does, but at the same time, they also want to claim that they’re not fake, but real and different from all the other girls. How can you call yourself a “Barbie” but also claim to be “real” and “different” from other girls?

A Barbie is a child’s toy. Barbies are manufactured in factories and are all the same. To me Barbie is fake and plastic. Why would you want to be like a doll, when you can just be you? We need to teach our young girls that they are already beautiful and do not have to be like Barbie with long legs and an hourglass shape. Beautiful women come in all different shapes and sizes.

For generations, Barbie has been the doll that many little girls have wanted to be just like. Barbie’s unrealistic body type – busty with a tiny waist, thin thighs, and long legs – is reflective of our culture’s unrealistic feminine ideal. Girls at an early age get trapped by this narrow definition of beauty and being female.  I really think that Barbie, as a symbol of the perfect female, is the reason some girls become anorexic or bulimic.  They become desperate to obtain Barbie’s (and society’s) unrealistic and unattainable idea of beauty.  

Now we have Nicki Minaj referring to herself as Barbie and perpetuating the idea that ideal beauty is on the outside.  She is just creating more insecurity in our young girls who just want to fit in and be current with all the latest fads. What we need are more positive role models to show girls that beauty is on the inside.

I understand that my opinions about Barbie are not shared by everyone and many people don’t think she’s as harmful for our young girls as I claim her to be.  During the month of March, the Women’s Center is hosting a series of Barbie events. Next Thursday’s event, Blaming Barbie: has a Doll Become our Feminist Scapegoat? with special guest speaker Courtney E. Martin, will address the feminist inclination to demonize Barbie as I have; however, Martin argues for a renaissance of self-examination instead. Then later at the end of the month, join the Women’s Center at the Toy & Miniature Museum on March 23 for Barbie:  Love Her or Leave Her? This will be an open discussion where people can talk about Barbie, how they played with her growing up, and how they feel about her now.  You know how I feel.  How about you?

Thin Images

As one might expect, the topics of female body image and eating disorders is an oft discussed topic here at the Women’s Center.  We already have several entries in our blog achieves which deal with these topics.  These articles cover a range of more specific issues tied to eating disorders and body image, and if you’re looking for statistics, The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness provides a thorough list at their website. We have heard many of these statistics before, and what’s more, the overwhelming majority of us know someone with an eating disorder. What we don’t often see, however, is the role these disorders play in the day-to-day lives of those who are actually suffering. We may see how the disorder governs actions while in public, but we don’t see what is behind the suffering, nor do we see how such disorders come to dictate nearly every aspect of the lives of those who are afflicted.

For me, this last point was driven home recently when I learned that a close family member, whose eating disorder I’ve known about for many years now, decided to enter into a treatment facility. As she works through the healing process, she has begun to disclose aspects of her life that were completely hidden to even her closest friends and family members. It’s not just that she has suffered for so long, but that she has done so in silence.


Coincidently, when she decided to enter treatment, I was reminded of a documentary I had heard about called Thin, which was made by photographer Lauren Greenfield in 2006. She also published a book of the same name in 2006, which deals with the issue of eating disorders and body image through photos. My wife got the film for us to view a few weeks ago, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you do. Even more, I strongly urge you to encourage the men in your lives to watch it as well, especially if they are unfamiliar with eating disorders and the suffering they afflict. It’s one thing to read statistics and medical literature on the subject, but it’s another thing altogether to see the images and hear women talk about how an eating disorder has completely taken over in their lives, leaving them unable to function normally in society.

Another problem that seriously depressed me during the film was that insurance companies often only pay for a limited amount of treatment, meaning that whatever issues you might have which are manifesting themselves as an eating disorder better be curable in six months or less; otherwise, you better have a plan B!!! As for the family member I’ve mentioned, they live in another country which has socialized medicine. If it takes six months, or six years, her insurance will continue to pay for treatments until she is either healthy again, or dead. Yes, this sounds kind of morbid, but I think my point is pretty clear. As this society becomes increasingly image-conscious with every subsequent generation, as a society, we might need to seriously rethink how we will fund treatment, since as a country we seem to be failing miserably in this area. But even once we do properly fund treatment, we will still not have gotten to the root of the problem, which may even be beyond repair.

The video above is Part 1 of the film Thin.  It is in 11 parts, but all there. You can also find it from online movie rental vendors as well any good local vendors. Seeing these women, and hearing their stories is far more powerful that any words I could pull together here.

Body Image Stories From Familiar Writers

Body image is not one of my favorite things to talk about. You’ll almost never find me talking about it in person. Maybe its because I’m not quite comfortable with my own body image, or maybe its because I’m afraid I’ll offend someone else. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

Maybe this is why I was embarrassed when I took a certain book to the checkout line at the thrift store, and why I didn’t want other people to see I was reading it. The book was a fast read, but I kept it by my bed for a whole week.  Titled, Does This Book Make Me Look Fat?, it is a collection of short stories about body image. Some of the stories are personal and told by people who have struggled with their own problems with body image.  Other stories are fictional.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that some of my favorite authors like Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Burned, Impulse and Glass), Carolyn Mackler (The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things), and Megan McCafferty (Sloppy Firsts, Second Helpings, Charmed Thirds, and Forth Comings), were included in this books.  I have fond memories of reading their books during my high school summers. Other authors such as Wendy McClure, who has written for Bust magazine, and cartoonists Jeff Dillon and Lauren R. Weinstein, were also included in this book, and rightfully so.

This was one of those books that I was glad I picked up, purely because it makes me rethink how I feel about body image. All of the stories were interesting and I felt like I could relate to each one of them in some way. But the best part was hearing stories about body image from the familiar voices of some of my favorite authors, making a difficult topic for me, a little less difficult.

Love Your Body Day 2009

Join the Women’s Center to celebrate the NOW Foundation’s Love Your Body Day. As NOW notes on their website:

Unrealistic Images of Women Make Love Your Body Day More Important Than Ever. For years now, advertisers and fashion magazines have airbrushed photos to turn models into the latest beauty ideal. Women and girls are constantly bombarded
with these artificial images — fantasies they can’t possibly live up to in real life.That’s why the NOW Foundation is celebrating its 12th annual Love Your Body Day on Oct. 21. This campaign is a giant shout out to the fashion, beauty, diet and advertising industries: No more fake images! Show us real women, diverse women, strong women, bold women. And to the women and girls who are targeted by messages telling them that the key to success and happiness is manufactured beauty, we say: It’s okay to “Be You” — the true you is beautiful.

In honor of Love Your Body Day, the UMKC Women’s Center will host the following events, designed to promote healthy body image:

Love Your Body Day Fashion Show
Tuesday, October 20, 2009, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m., University Center, Pierson Auditorium
Help us kick off Love Your Body Day with a fashion show featuring models of all ages, sizes and colors! Door prizes and refreshments will be available. Co-sponsored by the Revisioning Women Project and the Counseling Center.

Love Your Body Day Tables
Wednesday, October 21, Health Sciences Building (Hospital Hill), 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. & Oak Street Residence Hall, 4 – 6 p.m.
Come check out one of our information tables to learn more about how you can love your body! There will be information about body image and more as well as a chance to “trash” your fat talk.

Love Your Body Day Workshop
Wednesday, October 21, 12 – 1 p.m., MindBody Connection, University Center, room 161
Attend this interactive workshop to find out more about how to Love Your Body. it will include information about being “fat talk free” and creating a maintaining a positive body image.


When women start having liposuction on their ANKLES to make them more slender, words fail me. Luckily, Lynn Harris at Salon’s Broadsheet blog, and Hortense over at Jezebel did manage to find the words to point out how awful and ridiculous the whole “cankles” nonsense is.

So, go read their pieces and then head back here to tell us what you think in the comments.

Food Abuse = Rape?

Obesity is one of the most serious health issues in America today. This is what has prompted anti-obesity activist MeMe Roth to crusade for a lighter, thinner population. Unfortunately, her attacks on obesity not only seem poorly aimed, they are downright offensive.

In an article by Observer journalist Gaby Wood, Roth says she’s never been anorexic or on a diet. She encourages people to avoid obesity by eating more nutritious food. Yet when questioned, she sheepishly admits she doesn’t eat breakfast at all, and may not eat lunch until almost dinner time. These hardly seem to be healthy eating habits. So what exactly is Roth petitioning for – healthiness, as she says, or just anti-fatness? She seems to feel that there is more to be won from shaming “fat” people than to educating people about healthy eating choices. Is this really the route to health we want to take?

In addition to this, she compares obesity to rape:
“The defence has been made in the case of sex criminals that there is pleasure on the part of the victim. The same is true with what we’re doing with food. We may abuse our bodies with food, but it’s incredibly pleasurable. From a food marketer’s point of view, when your quote unquote victim is so willing and enjoying of the process, who’s fighting back?”

I find it appalling that she would actually refer to a defense of “pleasure on the part of the victim” as if it’s valid. Does she really believe that people enjoy being raped? And can you even possibly begin to compare food abuse (which is something we do to ourselves) with a crime as serious as rape (something completely out of the victim’s control)?

Jezebel has also taken offense to Roth’s comparison in a post about this same Observer article.

While I’m certain much of this is meant as a planned Ann Coulter-like publicity attempt, I find her comments and rationalization to be inappropriate, harmful, and downright offensive. Your thoughts?

Thinness and Women

Via Jezebel, comes an interesting piece from The Daily Mail on thinness and women just in time for equal pay day (since the author argues that the thin obsession is one possible reason for the gender pay gap). While  agree with Jezebel that the body-shaming bits are unfortunate in an otherwise good piece, I also whole-heartedly agree with the premise with that the time wome spend obsessing about our bodies keeps us from doing other great things. Case in point: a while ago, I was at a meeting with a group of accomplished, professional women, but the conversation nonetheless revolved mostly around their collective attempts to lose weight, and the feelings of guilt that come when they don’t achieve their “weight loss goals” (a phrase I seriously hate). And I kept thinking to myself “What could these amzaing women accomplish with all the time they spend worrying about what they’re eating, if they’re exercising enough, if they’re *bad* for having had the cheesecake, etc., etc.?” Truly, it breaks my heart. Healthy is fine, healthy is good — but obsessing is not. I wish we could learn to just let it go and change the world with all the extra time we’d have on our hands.

"Impossibly Beautiful" @ Shakesville

The “Impossibly Beautiful” series over at Shakesville is, for my money, one of the best series of blog posts out on the internet. In today’s installment, Melissa McEwan looks at a video op-ed from the New York Times, titled “Sex, Lies, and Photoshop.”

I encourage all of you to check out Melissa’s post and watch the NYT video. Personally, I’m intrigued by the idea of requiring full disclosure from magazines. Would that help improve self-esteem? Or would the images still have the same effect as they do currently?