Barbie's Not the Cause of Our Body Image Issues

by - Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The other day at work my coworkers and I were having a discussion about the awesome games/toys we played with growing up as children of the late 80's/early 90's.

Mall Madness, Dream Phone, Girl Talk. Do those games ring a bell for any of you?


I can still hear the mechanical voice form Mall Madness saying "There is a sale at the sunglasses boutique."

At some point in the conversation, we started talking about Barbie dolls, and how much we all loved playing with them when we were growing up.

Barbie Jaguar(Source)

My mom and I used to play with Barbies for hours while my brother napped. We'd take them to the "mall" and dress them up and make them try on outfits for hours.

(Ok usually this consisted of my mom dressing the Barbies because I had a hard time getting their clothes on, but you know it still counts.)

When my brother was older and had amassed a collection of Batman toys, we used play together, and Batman would take Barbie on dates in the Batmobile (My brother will now kill me for telling that story on the Internet...sorry little bro).

As my coworkers and I were laughing and exchanging Barbie stories, we hit upon the topic that almost everyone talks about these days when it comes to Barbie.

Does she give girls a bad body image?

Barbie and Bodies(Source)

This train of thought drives me completely freaking bananas.

I cannot tell you how sick I am of hearing people say Barbie is the reason that some girls hate their bodies.

Barbie is nothing more than a toy. Sure she has massive boobs and a teeny tiny waist and if she were a real person she wouldn't be able to survive with those proportions. I get that.


But as a little girl, I can tell you I honestly didn't pick up on it or care. I just wanted Barbie to have some cute clothes (this makes me laugh now because I am the least fashion forward person in the world) and to go on fun adventures in the Barbie Jeep.

Most of my Barbies were hand-me-downs from my cousins (as was about half my wardrobe as a kid). I played with them because my cousins at one point thought they were super cool, so obviously they must have been.

1989 Mom and grandchildren
My paternal cousins in 1989. I obviously wanted to be just like the older girls growing up.

Growing up, I didn't want to be or look like Barbie. I wanted to be just like my cousins. Real people that I thought were sooooo beyond cool because they were older than me and allowed to do stuff I wasn't. Like wear perfume and eat white bread and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Back in the day I thought that was a huge privlege. My mom wouldn't buy stuff like that.

Fun fact: Even though we're all grown up, I still think my cousins are some of the most awesome people around and if I grow up to be just like them, it wouldn't be a bad thing.


I don't think we give kids enough credit. I mean, I don't know too many people who say they want to grow up and be just like a toy. More often, I hear kids say they want to be teachers or astronauts or firefighters.

So I think it's crap when people blame Barbie.

Sure I had my fair share of insecurities growing up, most kids do, but I can promise it wasn't because I didn't look just like Barbie.

For the record, my parents packed up all my Barbies when I grew out of them and put them in storage. My mom said we'd save them so I could let my own daughter play with them some day.

If/when I grow up/get married/have kids, I would have no problem with my kids playing with Barbies. I don't think they send a bad message to little girls. I think they are a toy, one of many in the world, that kids can play with, and that's it.

So I vote we stop blaming a toy for kids' body image issues because are we really OK with giving a toy that much power?

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  1. I think it's less that Barbie is THE problem, and more that her shape is indicative of a powerful and negative expectation of women to look a certain way. As a women whose body is far from that ideal, I certainly see it as an issue and am scared of raising a daughter in a world where every image gives her a relatively uniform and difficult to achieve image to aspire to.

  2. Wait, I thought you played with Barbie dolls by taking them apart and putting them back together. Childhood fail.

  3. katie4:57 AM

    Yeah but, it's not ONLY Barbie. Barbie is one tiny piece in a society that puts so much value on women being pretty and thin. There's a collective effect of these things and it's hard to separate out one effect. I think Barbie is maybe more a reflection of a shitty society that holds women to ridiculous beauty standards. It's complicated.

    Barbie doesn't exist in a vacuum. Just look at any toy section in any store - and see how completely gendered the toys are. The focus is always on pink pretty stuff for girls, and sports/trucks/building stuff for boys. It's complete and utter bullshit. Barbie is only one of the many many MANY things that reinforce gender roles and ingrain them into kids at a young age.

  4. Yea I think kids are much more resillient than they ever get credit for. I never felt barbie pressures (or he-man pressures), I just wanted to be just like dad.

  5. i didn't think barbie was an 'ideal' myself (though i tended to play more with legos and lincoln logs). i think it's self-conscious grown women trying to find something to blame! hello, look at all the models, magazine ads, etc out there. that's what pushing the "what is beautiful" message. not barbie.

    but i guess if we're going to blame toys - can i then blame legos for motivating me to be square shaped? haha.

  6. I think the shape of Barbie has more to do with the fact that it's easy to make everything from one mold, and not have a different mold for every body type. That said, they may have gone a little overboard with the dimensions when figuring out how that universal mold should be cast. Having worked in marketing before, however, I'm willing to bet that the Barbie shape was focus group tested, and the resulting form was the most popular given the required specs. So really, Barbie would be a product of social influence, not a social influence itself.

  7. When I was growing up,I wanted to look like Barbie, but I wanted to be Batman.

  8. I don't remember EVER comparing my body to Barbie. Sure, Barbie had big boobs and a tiny waist, but I don't remember ever going "huh, Barbie looks like this and I don't" -- as you said, Barbie was just a toy, a fun toy, where I could "act up" an adult life while playing. It's like blaming violence on TV, give me a break. Look a the cartoons we grew up watching, if anyone decides that's what real life is like, they have issues.

  9. I think Barbie dolls may exacerbate the problem, but they definitely are not the cause. Only those who really struggle with body image will try to blame it on a doll...I never grew up playing with Barbies, but I still just viewed them as a fun, fashion forward toy.

  10. I think this is a really interesting topic. I did two thesis projects based on body image (including Barbie and other controversies like beauty pageants, magazines, commercials, etc), and do remember comparing myself to barbie (or wishing I would look like her when I grew up), but moreso comparing myself to the girls who had bigger boobs than me, a flatter stomach, or were "prettier" // had better hair. I honestly don't think that Barbie is the problem. It's comparison. It's the constant bombardment upon women and girls of unattainable images that are just not realistic for 98% of the female population. Barbie doesn't help, but some of my best childhood memories were with Barbies, making up stories, dressing them up, and going on adventures. It's more about role play and what we hoped for in the future, than comparing our own bodies to a toy. There are more factors than JUST that.

  11. OMG Jess! I'm dying over this post because of all the childhood references :-) seeing that pic at Grandma's makes me really wonder why you looked up to your older cousins - we all looked liked goons!

    I definitely don't blame Barbie either :-)

  12. I played with GI Joes when I was little...we had Barbies but I don't remember ever playing with them. I also don't remember ever thinking about Barbie's body and thinking that I should look like her, and it makes me wonder if we give Barbie/dolls/etc too much credit for the effect they have on people. Maybe it is just a toy?

  13. Great post Jess! <3

    I am so happy you wrote this and I agree! I never wanted to be Barbie either! My insecurities definitely did not come about due to Barbie!


  14. Renee2:50 AM

    Hi Jess
    This post has inspired me to write my feature article for English at school on this topic. I totally agree that Barbie is not the cause for body image issues. I had about 15 Barbies as a child and never once thought I wanted to look like her. I stopped playing with my Barbies at 10ish and at that age I wouldn't have even known what body image is. At 15 I don't have body image issues but if I did I wouldn't be blaming Barbie.