Barbie – with her impossibly tiny waist, ridiculously long skinny limbs, and gigantic, perky bust – has long been accused for warping the minds of young girls and forever skewing their ideals of what a woman should be. As a response, Mattel recently announced their launch of a line of new Barbies with different body shapes. This move has been met with, from what I have seen, mostly positive responses. But I’m not so keen.
I guess I never felt like the original Barbie was a bad thing; I feel like I always KNEW that she wasn’t real (her being a DOLL was my first clue…), so the fact that I didn’t look like her never really phased me. The same way that my inability to look like a Cabbage Patch Doll didn’t bother me either. (Although I do remember wondering why I couldn’t have a cute little “outie” like they did!)
She was a doll. I was not. She was not real. I am. Because of those (rather important) facts, I never felt compelled to compare my body with hers. Her and I were apples and oranges. The obvious differences between Barbie and Sarah were so real, comparison was not a thought in my mind. She was SO far on the other end of the spectrum, that any message of “you should look more like Barbie” was never even a blip on my radar.
But now, I fear, that thought of comparison is being put into girls’ minds by the very change that is meant to eradicate it.
Where Barbie was once a stock, unchanging, unrealistic body ideal, Mattel has now made her a little more real. A little more like us.
Where once girls played with her and didn’t even notice Barbie’s long legs, full chest, and tiny waist, they now will, because she will be beside dolls that don’t have those things, and it will be impossible not to notice.
Because sometimes you don’t notice an attribute until it’s alongside something that’s different. Of course different is good, different is real. But when it comes to the argument of whether or not this change is going to make a positive difference in how Barbie will affect a young girl’s body image, I’m not sure this is a good different. Because now, we’re not comparing apples with oranges anymore. Barbie is looking a lot more like an apple. And that is opening up the door for that comparison to happen.
Let’s face it: line up 10 original Barbies, and there’s not much to notice. There maybe be differences in skin, eye, and hair colour/style, but all have the same bodies. Then line up 10 new Barbies, that all have different body shapes. Now all of a sudden, I’m starting to notice the differences. And because girls are already getting the message of what society wants them to look like from media (I don’t think Barbie is the culprit!), they can look at those different shaped Barbies and compare. And if I’m a girl who identifies more with short, curvy Barbie, and I’m struggling with body image and self esteem, then I’m not so sure I would like what I see next to tall, slender Barbie.
Do you get what I’m saying?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in healthy body image for girls and boys, I’m a big believer in self esteem, in being comfortable in your body, whatever your shape. I’m a big believer that we all have worth; size and weight and shape and colour are what make each of us unique, but they don’t have the ability to decrease our intrinsic value. I have a daughter and never want her to worry about her body, or about being good enough. I want her to value her health (emotional AND physical), but never want her to tie that to a certain size or feel pressure to look a certain way.
I have slim friends and I have heavy friends, and everything in between. I fell in love with my husband when he was 30 lbs. heavier than he is now. I know we all get affected by advertising and media to some degree, but when I look at a person I care about, I look at them. I don’t see a size label, or a number on a scale. I see my friend.
So in a world where we’re so conscious of labels, I’m wondering why we’re so excited about a line of Barbies that is doing exactly that? That is now labelling women as “tall” or “petite” or “curvy”? How about just leaving her the way she is? Every unrealistic inch of her. She’s not real, who cares what her size is?
Barbie never carried a size label, but now she does. Now every little girl who buys a Barbie will get to choose what size and shape she wants. Or will be given a size by someone else’s choosing. She will now be cognizant of body differences, of labels for those differences, of which shape of Barbie might look like her or her friend. And how do we choose? How in the world will I choose a Barbie for my daughter, without giving her a wrong message in her tender years? If I buy her tall, skinny Barbie, she might feel like she doesn’t match up. If I buy her short, curvy Barbie, she might feel like I’m trying to make a statement about her body.
I often feel like our world makes a bigger deal about size that we should. I feel like opening up the conversation is great, but somehow we’re all still obsessed about size. I feel like we’re still giving labels, and in the face of trying to be accepting, we’re actually giving more stock to those differences and those labels. And now Barbie is taking part too.
What do you think?