This article was originally published to Huffington Post on 01/03/2014 by Dr. Gregory Jantz, PhD.
I never had a Barbie myself as a kid and, with boys in my house now, I’ve never bought one. According to www.barbiemedia.com, Barbie was introduced in 1959 and, that year, 300,000 were sold. Today, it is reported that one Barbie is sold every three seconds worldwide. Other tidbits from this all-about-Barbie website: 90 percent of girls age 3 to 10 own at least one Barbie doll; Barbie is the No. 1 doll sold in the United States and the No. 1 toy sold in the world; since 1959, over 1 billion (that’s with a “b”) outfits have been made for Barbie and friends; and the Barbie doll is 11.5 inches tall and weighs 7.25 ounces.
The height and weight of Barbie is usually where I intersect with her, as a counselor and eating disorder specialist. Over the years, I’ve listened to women lament or rage, or both, against the pressure of her impossible image. To be fair, the intense pressure to be thin isn’t completely traceable to Barbie, but I wonder what the long-term consequences have been since 1959 with generation after generation of young girls getting their first Barbie when they were barely out of diapers.
A couple of years ago, I read a story about a young woman, Galia Slayen, who set out to create a “real-life” Barbie, extrapolating measurements from the doll. Her resulting real-life Barbie was almost 6 feet tall, with a 39-inch bust, an 18-inch waist, a hip measurement of 33-inches and a shoe size of 3. She weighed around 110 pounds, with a BMI of 16.24, which, according to the CDC, is considered significantly underweight. Galia said, “I had fond times with my Barbie, and I admired her perfect blonde locks and slim figure. Barbie represented beauty, perfection and the ideal for young girls around the world. At least, as a 7-year-old, that’s what she was to me.” Galia went from being a 7-year-old playing with Barbie to a teenager fighting anorexia.
People have criticized Barbie’s image for some time, but recently one suggestion for change created a stir. According to the story, “Double-Chin Barbie’s Plus-Size Fuss,” Plus-Size Modeling put up a picture on their Facebook page of a decidedly larger, wider Barbie, complete with double-chin, and the question, “Should Toy Companies Start Making Plus-Sized Dolls?” When I read about Double-Chin/Plus-Size Barbie, I thought to myself, if I was an overweight child, how would I feel to receive one? If I took my Plus-Size Barbie to play with other children who had traditional-sized Barbies, what would the reaction be? To be honest, I didn’t envision a positive outcome for either of those scenarios.
I’m not ready to say a Barbie doll, in isolation, destroys self-esteem and causes eating disorders. But when you stack Barbie on top of all the other impossible images heaped on to children, she may contribute to a child’s sense-of-self crashing down. She’s certainly had a lasting effect on Galia Slayen.
Barbie has had a lasting effect on another young woman in the news lately. Her name is Valeria Lukyanova, and she’s been called Human Barbie because of how she’s set out to physically alter her appearance to look like the doll. I found her pictures deeply disturbing. Valeria Lukyanova is an outlier, where Barbie’s influence is concerned, but what about Galia Slayen? How many other women since 1959 have played with Barbie, collecting accessories and clothes and secretly comparing themselves to a six-foot doll with a 39-inch bust, an 18-inch waist and size 3 shoes?
If we’re going to change Barbie’s traditional image, is Double-Chin Barbie the only option? As adults, can’t we find a way for our children to play and dream and project themselves into a world where a healthy weight is the ideal? Traditional Barbie never got us there and Plus-Size Barbie won’t either. I’d say we need to try again.