Proud2Bme | Barbie’s New Look: Empowering or Not Enough? Our Writers Weigh In!

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Barbie’s New Look: Empowering or Not Enough? Our Writers Weigh In!

We all know that Barbie’s proportions are harmfully unrealistic; if the original doll were a real person, she wouldn’t be able to hold up her own head. Yesterday, Mattel broke the Internet with news of its brand new Barbie Fashionistas line, which adds curvy, tall and petite dolls to its repertoire. Our writers shared their reactions to Mattel’s groundbreaking—and long overdue—step in the right direction. 

Dana Land: When I read the news that Barbie got a makeover, I was ecstatic. The Barbie image has been an example of damaging media for many years now. Playing with Barbies was a much loved activity of mine in childhood— but I also tried to change the way my Barbie looked to fit my image. I remember how frustrated my mother would be when I ruined another Barbie by cutting her hair or trying to make her body bigger like mine. Sorry, mom!

While it is a shame that the primary motivator in the change seems to be a sales tactic rather than one focused on the health of its consumers, I am thankful for the change. Barbie has had limitless career opportunities from mother to presidential candidate; and now that Barbie has several new looks, children who identify with them can see that their opportunities are endless, too.

Kate Leddy: Barbie's makeover is certainly a big step, and I was thrilled to see it on social media yesterday morning. Of course, there are two sides to consider—it isn't entirely an accomplishment. The creators of Barbie have been hit with criticism for decades, and this should have happened a long time ago. Furthermore, while curvy Barbie—and any Barbie with a body that strays from the unrealistic mold of the classic thin one—is a step, it certainly does not fit the definition of curvy that many people have. From what I have seen in photos, the curvy Barbie is still relatively thin and maintains the same dainty facial features and arms as the original Barbie. This new line of Barbies still excludes a number of body types that are already underrepresented in the media.

That being said, I'm choosing to focus on the positives in this step. Many forget that while Barbie's body may not appeal to feminists, her wide range of careers (from Doctor Barbie to Astronaut Barbie) represents the important feminist argument that women can be successful in the same jobs that have been catered to men, especially during the time period that Barbie was created. And while the uproar about Barbie's body often seems to overshadow that, at least now we have accomplished a step in the right direction and that is no small feat. We need to keep demanding representation for all bodies, keep pushing unrealistic body standards out of the spotlight, and step by step, we are going to get there.

Nichole Petroy: It is very cool to see Barbie in sizes that fit beyond her typical mold. This is going to be a hugely positive marketing move because of the unfavorable opinion of the doll's original body type. While I do think that it is great to see different body types represented, there is something that has always irked me about the battle against Barbie's "unrealistic body standards."  I believe that focusing on Barbie's body to begin with was defeating the entire purpose of the doll.

We have all read about Barbie's height, waist size and bust size if they were on an actual woman.  A lot of people get angry about her extremely small waist and very huge bust.  Okay, fair.  However, the combination of her height, measurements, shoe size, etc. are not meant to be real life; that is why she is a doll. The main point of Barbie is to be anything you want to be (hence her many careers). Own a dream house and limo—you know, the life. I don't think the intention of Barbie's good looks were ever supposed to be for young girls to strive for, as much as just to be visually pleasing and profit-worthy. At the end of the day, though, it is pretty sweet to see Barbie in different shapes and sizes.

Cassandra Priante: Progress is finally being made. A toy and its company, especially one with such popularity as Barbie and Mattel, have a huge responsibility to young children and society as a whole. Barbie dolls become role models for kids and can leave lasting impressions. Oftentimes, kids aspire to be like what they see—and  seeing and playing with only thin, blonde, blue-eyed Barbie dolls puts a lot of pressure on children to try and meet impossible standards. While these new dolls will not solve all the problems our world faces today about body image and acceptance of all people, it certainly is a start and an example for other companies to follow.

Bailey Anderson: I am so pleased to see the industry acknowledging and responding to the need for healthier and more realistic-looking Barbie dolls, but I don’t think we are there yet. I have two main questions in response to Barbie’s announcement.

1. Why does the American ideal dictate Barbie’s figure?

In Time Magazine’s exclusive story announcing the new Barbies, Eliana Dockterman noted that, "American beauty ideals have evolved. The curvaceous bodies of Kim Kardashian West, Beyoncé and Christina Hendricks have become iconic.” I am happy to see society’s acceptance and celebration of “curvaceous bodies”—but what makes it the “American beauty ideal”? And, why does Barbie have to reflect what Americans perceive to be ideal? I’d rather Barbie reflect what is, not what should be

2. What about Ken?

Ken’s tall, tan and perfectly sculpted figure is also an inaccurate representation of reality—why didn't Mattel release “petite and curvy” male alternatives? It is easy to dismiss the inadequacies of male Barbie dolls because consumers are mostly female; but, a fair representation of the male body is important, regardless of who is playing with them. All kids need to develop a sense of reality and expectation of the female and male body. A healthy awareness of every gender, shape, size, color and ability humanity has to offer will allow children to escape the notion of perfection with respect to their own bodies and their peers.

What do YOU think about Barbie's new look? Tell us in the comments below!


For more on body image, check out:

6 Quarter-Life Realizations About Body Image (as Illustrated by “Friends”)

5 Ways to Give Kids a Confidence Boost

Ending the Silence Around Bullying

Images courtesy of Mattel

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