Are We Living in Barbie's World with Beauty Standards She Created? Essay

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Did you play with Barbie as a child? Did you ever wish you looked like the blonde bombshell? Since her launch in 1959, Barbie has had a huge impact on those girls who owned her. With over one billion dolls sold in 60 years, she has set an unattainable standard of beauty. From a young age, children are influenced by images around them. What message does Barbie send to young children about what is normal? Mattel, the toy manufacturer, has clearly questioned what is normal as they have greatly extended their range. Was this to increase profits? Or reflect differences between individuals in society? One thing that needs clarification is whether Barbie has led to a generation of girls who have grown up with body image issues and an increase in eating disorder figures as they try to achieve the unrealistic standard set by this perfect fashionista.

There is an unrealistic perception of beauty held by modern society. The bar has been set at an almost unachievable level by models, celebrities and Barbie. This piece of plastic with luxurious golden hair has set the example that to be ‘pretty’ you must be tall, weigh 54kg, have an eighteen-inch waist, hourglass figure and thigh gap. If Barbie was to take a step out of her plastic shell she would barely function as a human. A 2019 study led to the discovery Barbie would be roaming around on all fours as her small body would not carry the weight of her perfectly formed head. Barbie would be starving herself every day. This coincides with the message portrayed by the 1965 ‘Slumber Party Barbie’ who came equipped with a diet book screaming, “DON’T EAT” on the front. This message is what generations grew up believing, this could explain why those in the spotlight like Lilly Collins have suffered an eating disorder. Barbie is one piece of a large puzzle where the current definition of beauty comes from today.

Children aren’t born with self-doubt, but influenced by things around them as they grow up. It is alarming the number of children who think the only way to attain Barbie’s perfect appearance is by starving themselves. For example, three Barbies are sold every second making two hundred and fifty-nine thousand sold each day and millions every year, making many happy children being influenced by the popular fashionista doll. This forms their understanding of ‘normal’, but what is normal? Kids question their own bodies and have done so for many generations. Although the issue of body image is highly diverse, over half of all girls as young as five are already troubled by their appearance and the thought of becoming ‘fat’ is a thought infecting their young brains. Cases of bulimia in young females tripled in five years between the late 1980’s and early nineties The number of cases has increased since and the link has to be made to everyday role models. A UK study tested girls' reactions to being told a story while observing one of three images. Each child was shown an image of Barbie, Emme (an alternate doll) or a picture not related to dolls. The study found those girls who had observed an image of Barbie emerged feeling less satisfied with their bodies and more in favor of a ‘smaller figure’. In spite of this, the Internet is a significant part of society today, not only Barbie can be blamed for this. But we need to question her involvement. Young girls have been proven to compare themselves to the plastic doll and this is having an extremely negative impact on their view of the body.

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Many girls own Barbies and nowadays they are also most likely on social media, where one is constantly bombarded with images of models and celebrities appearing perfect in every way. How does this affect one's mindset who already feels far from perfect? Teenagers may compare themselves to models thinking, ‘I wish I looked like that!’, reaffirming existing beauty standards from social media. Dr. Emanuele, speaking at the Child Mind Institute, compared this to how “kids view social media through the lens of their own lives”. This outlines how teens correlate their lives with a model who is constantly dieting and at the gym relentlessly, but these facts are hidden behind the scenes away from the prying eyes of ordinary society. Barbie could be accused of having what we view as the ‘perfect life’, including the perfect figure, luxurious living conditions, exotic travel, infinite income, and gorgeous friends. But is this real life? This does not matter as some who view these works of fiction will immediately make comparisons and view their own lives as dismal in comparison. So, how did Matel attempt to alter this perception of perfection?

Curvy Barbie appeared on the market in 2016 to battle the original ‘perfect’ Barbies’ message about body image. ‘Curvy Barbie’ is an attempt to teach youngsters values about the diverse world out there. However, although ‘curvy’ Barbies message is definitely that of a positive one, has this reformation attempt backfired? The typical impression of curvy Barbie is ‘she is fat Barbie’. Conclusions cannot be drawn yet about the impact of curvy Barbie, as she has not been available until recently. One child sent curvy Barbie to the bin after claiming “...I don’t like her. Her arms aren’t right. Her legs are too big. She doesn’t look like my other Barbies” (Independent). This emphasizes the negative attitude some children can develop towards ‘fat’ people, whether that is themselves or others. Barbie has most definitely had a positive makeover, but her original appearance has not yet been overshadowed.

In conclusion, Barbie holds an influence over what we see as the embodiment of beauty in society today. She has played a role in influencing how young girls view themselves, and she has shaped their conception of what is pretty. Social media also plays a role in manipulating the minds of children. Over the past sixty years, since Barbie’s release, our attitude towards beauty has changed, and not for the better. It appears that although Barbie has had a modern-day reboot it seems she can’t shake her image of perfection with the tiny waist and skeletal frame. Do we want another generation of beautiful, happy little girls growing up dissatisfied with their bodies? Things need to change. Toy manufacturers need to open their eyes and take responsibility for the generation of girls they let down. Body positive Barbie could be the way forward.

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