My “Thing” About Barbie Dolls

Last night I saw a post on Facebook suggesting that Mattel introduce a Barbie Doll that is bald due to chemotherapy to help girls and teens experiencing baldness because of cancer treatment. The idea, of course, is that a Bald Barbie would be a role model and comfort to bald children.  My initial response was oh yeah, good idea. [Of course, Mattel would probably introduce chemo accessories, not included in the Chemo Barbie package. Fifteen wigs and two dozen fashion hats. No change in the overall look, just bald.]

From a deeper place exploded my ingrained righteousness and, okay, I admit it, rage about Barbie Dolls. Mattel introduced Barbie Roberts in 1959 as the epitome of what a “teen model” should be. The Barbie craze continues 52 years later and, in my righteous opinion, has never ceased to do harm to girls’ self-image.  Their moms, who grew up with Barbie, continue to support this unrealistic image of beauty. [Sorry moms, don’t attack me, I’m guilty too.  I bought Barbies for my nieces and even my son was enamored with the whole Barbie/Ken thing for a short time.]

Blown up to life size, Barbie’s measurements would be 36-18-38. Come on!  This just is not possible nor is it healthy or desirable.

I recall one or two Barbie dolls in our house when I was a kid.  My older sister sewed the entire costumes for West Side Story for her Barbie named “Maria”. Since our dad had taken us to see West Side Story on Broadway and we had the record of all the songs, it was great fun to play out all the scenes and sing along. I don’t recall a Ken Doll to play Tony, I guess we managed.

My Ginny doll looked like a little girl in comparison. Well, she WAS a little girl, just like me, flat chested, no waist to speak of, a little belly, innocent. No “image” all imagination. I started to judge myself for my affection for Ginny. What was wrong with me that I wasn’t attracted to Barbie? When I think back, she scared the hell out of me.

Yet even had we not had “Unreal Barbie” in our home, it was all over the media anyway and has never stopped. The images of what the ideal teen and young woman should look like were everywhere. Twiggy hit the British modeling scene in the early 60s and though she was impossibly thin and waif-like, we all tried to at least get our make-up exactly like Twiggy’s make-up and squeeze our “real” bodies into fashions that would never work and feel awful about ourselves as a result.

Back to Cancer Barbie. I certainly don’t want to discount the challenge and importance of supporting children who are fighting cancer. We need to support them physically, emotionally and spiritually in every way possible. If a bald doll would help, I’m all for it.

But how about all the girls and boys out there who suffer from eating disorders? Yes, we have an epidemic of obesity in this country that is killing people. But equally deadly is what we do to ourselves to fit in to an ideal that doesn’t exist and is equally unhealthy.

So let’s return to Barbie Doll. I did some research to see if there has ever been a PLUS SIZE BARBIE DOLL, and found the following on Huffington Press:  Turning up in Daily Venus Diva’s search was an Effie from “Dreamgirls” doll, whose memorable curves are clad in a glam brown gown; a Rosie O’Donnell Barbie, who wears the sort of baggy blazer the real-life TV host sports; and The Emme Doll, made to resemble plus-size model Emme Aronson (who these days spends her time blogging for Huffington Press).

Then there’s the curious “Ciotka Kena” Barbie, which in Polish means’ “Ken’s Aunt.” Apparently in Poland, Ken has an aunt with voluminous blonde hair and a white lace teddy — and real-woman curves. A limited edition, “Ciotka Kena” Barbie would most definitely be considered plus-size stateside.

Other than that… there’s not much. Even the Oprah Barbie depicted the TV host in her (much) skinnier days, lest a celebrity’s curves become immortalized in plastic.

There are plenty of thin models and celebs, but the facts on the ground are that 33.8 percent of adults and 17 percent of kids and teens in the US are obese. Does society, namely young girls, need a plus-size Barbie?

Thank you Huffington Press. I vote YES. Introduce a whole line of Barbie Dolls — realistic, healthy, round, luscious bodies, all shapes, sizes, colors and conditions that might actually inspire girls to LOVE their bodies.  Introduce a Ken Doll who doesn’t display a “six pack”, but a realistic teenager who isn’t working out obsessively to be the buffest boy on the football team.

I couldn’t stop there. From a “dot gov” mental health website I found the following statistics:

It is estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder – seven million women and one million men.    One in 200 American women suffers from anorexia.    Two to three in 100 American women suffer  from bulimia.    Nearly half of all Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder.    An estimated 10 – 15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are males.

MORTALITY RATES:    Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.    A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 30 – 40% ever fully recover.  The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old.    20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems.

ACCESS TO TREATMENT:    Only 1 in 10 people with eating disorders receive treatment. About 80% of the girls/women who have accessed care for their eating disorders do not get the intensity of treatment they need to stay in recovery – they are often sent home weeks earlier than the recommended stay. Treatment of an eating disorder in the US ranges from $500 per day to $2,000 per day. The average cost for a month of inpatient treatment is $30,000. It is estimated that individuals with eating disorders need anywhere from 3 – 6 months of inpatient care. Health insurance companies for several reasons do not typically cover the cost of treating eating disorders.   The cost of outpatient treatment, including therapy and medical monitoring, can extend to $100,000 or more.

ADOLESCENTS:  Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents.   95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 2.   50% of girls between the ages of 11 and 13 see themselves as overweight.    80% of 13-year-olds have attempted to lose weight.

RACIAL AND ETHNIC MINORITIES: Rates of minorities with eating disorders are similar to those of white women. 74% of American Indian girls reported dieting and purging with diet pills. Essence magazine, in 1994, reported that 53.5% of their respondents, African-American females were at risk of an eating disorder.

Now you tell me and then tell Mattel, you think a line of PLUS SIZE BARBIE DOLLS would help, even just a little?

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3 Responses to My “Thing” About Barbie Dolls

  1. Coach Cate says:

    While we’re at it, let’s add Lesbian Barbie, Gay Ken, and blended families! Let’s get real.

  2. brooke99infiniti says:

    I collect barbie dolls, mainly silkstones because I think they are pretty and I love the different fashions. However, I have always realized that it’s a doll, and trying to look like a doll is unrealistic. It doesn’t matter how many surgeries or what someone does they are never going to look like Barbie, and why would someone want to look like a plastic doll? I’m sorry you feel that way about Barbie, but I love her. If we are going to start pointing fingers the number one cause IMO of self image problems comes from our own peers. Where did they get the idea of beauty probably from TV, movies, ect. and their parents ( who also got their ideas of beauty from what they see on TV and in magazines). While yes, Barbie has unrealistic proportions I just don’t think she is the problem, because parents should teach their children that looking like a doll is not realistic nor healthy. I guarantee you if you went to a middle school and asked girls who they would look like if they could the answers would more than likely be a celebrities name or another popular peer. Just my opinion!

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