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Barbie and Body Image

Pauline Campos's picture

Banned Body Shop Ad

Does the above image offend you?

It offended Mattel, the makers of the infamous Barbie doll. The company pulled rank, sent Body Shop a cease and desist letter, effectively yanking the ad from circulation.

Granted, this all happened about five years ago. But the fact that the image above still appears on Facebook pages asking those who agree with The Body Shop to repost to their own page in a show of support, along with the fact that I got so fired up about the topic, tells us we still have a ways to go before society stops assigning worth based on body size alone.

Obviously, Mattel's Think Tank was missing a few brain cells when it came to making this less than stellar marketing decision. Not only did they effectively make themselves look like the world's biggest assholes, they also helped to shed light on the Rubenesque Ruby doll featured in the Body Shop ad now  facebook status updates in support of The Body Shop.

See, the problem here is that Mattel decided to make this about them and their product. And maybe, to an extent, it was. Barbie is, after all, the most famous doll of all time. She's been everything from a model to a teacher to a doctor to a butterfly fairy and done it all with crazy arched feet to fit in those high heels and somehow managed to not topple over with measurements that have been proven to not be physically possible to maintain for an actual living human. Google Barbie and Real Life Measurements and you will find a slew of conflicting answers that all come to approximately the same conclusion: if Barbie were real she would be extremely tall, extremely anorexic, and probably not be able to stand up straight.

Bottom line? Barbie needs a therapist and a double cheeseburger.

I know that my daughter doesn't see Broken Body Image or Eating Disorder or False Representation or even a mirror of herself when she asks for a Barbie when we pass the toy aisle at Target. I know she only sees the chance to play and imagine and play dress up with a new doll whose hair she could destroy within moments of getting it out of the box. And whether we like it or not, that's probably one of the biggest secrets of Barbie's long-standing success. Little girls who loved Barbie grow up to be mothers of little girls who love Barbie in spite of all of life's lessons mama has gleaned since the last time she looked at Barbie and didn't see a reason to hate her body. And because her daughter's smiles are more important than her own agendas, mama lets her little girl have the doll that makes her giggle and hopes to God that her baby grows up without ever having compared herself to the doll of her childhood.

Am I being harsh? Maybe a little bit. Barbie wasn't directly responsible for my eating disordered childhood. Barbie didn't show me how to starve myself or how to make myself throw up when I ate too much. But to be fair, Barbie also did not show me that my natural curves were something to be proud of.

But guess what, Mattel. That Body Shop ad was something you should have left alone if only for the reason that it was designed to make the average American woman feel good about what she sees in the mirror. Little girls, I doubt, were going to be swayed from the Barbie camp because of an ad at a beauty store that spoke to her Mommy. And that average American woman you pissed off is the one holding the purse strings the little girl asking for the Barbie at the store is tugging on.

Kudos to The Body Shop. And someone please remind Mattel to play nice in the sandbox next time.

Pauline is the founder of Girl Body Pride & blogs at Aspiring Mama. Find her at about.me/paulinecampos


Barbara's picture

Dolls being the same size

The dolls need to be the same size so parents don't go broke buying several different sizes of doll clothes, they are interchangeable. If you have several different sizes will children be happy having fewer outfits for them?
This is just an idea, if you feel so strongly about doll sizes why don't you design one and market it? Not being sarcastic, I am serious. One toy company isn't the only one that can make dolls.

Barbara 's picture

In defense of Barbie

Dolls do not give little girls body image problems, parents do. Oh yes, I went there. I had Barbie, Ken, Midgw, Alan and Skipper.My Mom spent hours making hound made doll clothes and furniture for the handmade doll house my Dad made for my dolls. My Mom was plump. She sat me down when the whole doll thing got started with me and explained to me hat the dolls were unrealistic. She told me real women could never look like Barbie. I asked why they made them that way then. Her answer was because the dolls were on a different scale than people and it made their little clothes look better. I accepted this the same way I accepted that the boy dolls didn't have certain body parts. They were just dolls. My Dad, on the other hand said things to me like, if you ever get fat like your Mother, I will take you to the river and drown you. He once had taken the family out to dinner and told me I didn't need to eat because he thought I was getting too fat. I was 8 years old and was not fat. But, I learned that if I wanted to make my Dad proud I had better be thin. A doll didn't do that to me, my Dad did. I struggled with anorexia for years. If I things had been different and I had a daughter, I would have bought her Barbie dolls. And I would have explained that they aren't realistic. And I would have said, you know what, it is good to be healthy, but beautiful an healthy come in different sizes and shapes sometimes. People make kids have body image issues, not dolls.

Vera's picture

However (re in defense of Barbie)

Barbie is yet one more things in society that emphasises that women should be skinny and honestly if barbie's looks aren't a contributing factor in how children view normal why are they all skinny? Why does mattel cling to the rediculous size of barbie instead of getting barbie some lovely differently shaped friends (same goes for Ken ftm)
And also you are one person who says what impact barbie has on another individual? I grew up with a skinny mother skinny grannies and generally everyone in our family was skinny (except for the men) barbie was skinny and eventhough I was told I could be different how could that be true if everything around you sticks to the skinny side?

Lissa Rankin's picture


What a great article Pauline! Thanks so much for sharing.

And Jake, I hear you. As an MD, I encourage people to stick to a normal BMI (body mass index). But a normal BMI is not anorexic or Barbie shaped in the least. Obesity is clearly an issue, and it's tricky to teach our kids healthy body image at the same time as we teach them to make food and lifestyle choices that help them avoid obesity. But it's possible. It's the way we teach it- by example!

Anonymous's picture

BMI disagreement

I'd have to disagree with BMI being a reasonable measure of normal body weight. As a 6' tall male, it says that I could be as low as 137lbs and be "normal" and if I pass 184lbs, i'm overweight. Ridiculous. I'd suggest you rethink your recommendations.

Jake's picture

Maybe the Average American

But not the average around the world. 5'4" and 164, I would say the same thing everyone else in the world says. Americans are fat.

Ok so Barbie isnt the answer but I dont want my daughter looking like the average American either.

Just saying

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