In
this essay I’m going to look at Barbie, the fashion doll and model
with the longest career in the fashion world and whether she is
harmful or empowering, from her dark beginnings to the multifaceted
doll she is today. As a child I played with Barbies, had many and
lost many tiny, tiny shoes and I wanted to grow up to be this
beautiful, strong woman portrayed in my doll.

Barbie
debuted in1959 at the New York Toy Fair. It’s creator Ruth Handler’s
daughter was sat playing with 2-D paper dolls, and she wondered why
there was no doll her daughter could play with that represented an
adult female, in her own words, “My whole philosophy of Barbie was
that, through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted
to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices”.
However the very first dolls were originally created for a very
different reasons. The creator of Barbie went away to Germany and
with her idea in mind she found a doll she could model her adult doll
from. The German doll was made as a freebie from a cigarette company,
she was to portray a pin-up doll used in their packaging aimed at
men. She bought some of the dolls and brought them home and with a
toy designer at her side they resahaped the pin-up doll into the very
first doll and given the name Barbie after Ruth’s daughter Barbara.

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Since
her beginnings Barbie has had 180 different careers, multiple fantasy
roles and coutless fashions and accessories. Her collection timeline
displays snapshots of the fashions in different eras. She has
modelled fashion for almost 60 years and despite the problems Mattel
have faced she is still going strong today but is she harmful because
of her gender stereotyping or unrealistic body and has this been
improved with their new fashionistas range or is she an empowering
woman who can be whoever and whatever she wants? Is Barbie bad or is
it the media? Is the modelling and fashion industry to blame for bad
body image or Barbie?

In
1959 Barbie was released as a teenage fashion model wearing a black
and white swimsuit typical of the time period for women in the US. In
the 60’s Barbie became a fashion editor wearing the stylish
power-suit of pencil skirt and blazer, a singer wearing a black
fishtail gown and black arm length gloves, she also became an
executive, once again wearing the pencil skirt suit but this time in
grey plaid along with matching hat and grey gloves, she became a
student teacher wering a more relaxed professional outfit of a pencil
skirt and top in the mid 60’s Barbie also became an astronaut with
the whole nation going space crazy in the run up to the moon landing
in 1969. Barbies professional outfits were reflective of the
professional outfits of the time. In the 70’s Barbie became a
surgeon, however she still wore a dress and heels and she also became
an olympic swimmer. In the 1980’s barbie became a fitness instrudtor
donning a full body leotard, legwarmers and sweatbands almost a
stereotypical look for the 1980’s, she became a vet wearing garish,
pink polkadot leggings, agin reflective of the time and she became a
rockstar, the epitome of the 80’s with big hair, bright colours and
leather jacket. In the 90’s Barbie had quite a few careers but her
most notable in my opinion was her presidential candidate look in
1992 again wearing the pencil skirt suit but in a blue satin, which
is indicative of the era. She also became a maine corps seargeant, a
firefighter, an army medic, a police officer, a denist and an airline
pilot. This decade really was the start of female empowerment for
Barbie. However in the 2000’s Barbies careers seemed to go on a
gender specific downward spiral with her careers being a ballerina, a
chef, a soccer coach (all in pink), a horse rider and a newborn baby
doctor, reiterating the sexist gender stereotypes forced on girls
today. Although in this decade Barbie has been seen to become a
computer engineer, a racecar driver and an architect, all jobs
usually associated as a male jobs being too complicated for women.

If
Barbie was real, she would be incapable of doing any of her jobs
however, her dimensions would be physically unattainable, in an
experiment by Rehabs.com, a website for people recovering from eating
disorders, says girls are, “dying to be like Barbie.”. In the
60’s Barbies company Mattel released “Slumber Party Barbie” this
came complete with a scale permanantly stuck at 110lbs and small book
entitled “How To Lose Weight” and on the back of this book were
the words “DON’T EAT!”. According to Rehab.com, if Barbie was a
real human she would be 5’9” tall and weigh 110lbs, about 35lbs
below a healthy weight for a female of that height. At this weight
Barbie would be unable to menstruated and her BMI would be
approaching severely underweight. The Yale Center for Eating and
Weight Disorders caluculated how much the average woman would have to
change their body in order to attain Barbie’s figure and they found
that women would have to grow two feet taller, extend their neck by
3.2 inches, gain 5 inches in chest size, and lose 6 inches in waist
circumference. But how does her image affect us?

I
asked a group of 28 women that played with Barbie as children age
ranging from 20-66 years old, from the people I asked only 17.9% of
them said they aspired to be Barbie, only 14.3% of them said that
Barbie had a negative impact on their perceptions of beauty as a
child, I also asked whether Barbie was harmful to them as a child or
empowering, only 1 person out of the 28 thought Barbie was harmful to
them, 35.7% said it
wasnt harmful but did not state whether it was empowering, 25% said
she was empowering for them, 21.4% of them said it was neither and
10.7% said it was both. So from my research Barbie only affected the
few in a bad way.

Barbie
has recently had a new makeover for her new ‘Fashionistas’ range,
there is 40 new dolls, 7 new body types, including dolls with a
bigger waist and taller and shorter statures, 11 skintones, and 28
different hairstyles including the blue hair that has recently been
trending in popular culture. Although if we look at the dimensions of
the new ‘Curvy Barbie’ you will find that she is still 3 dress sizes
under the average british female and her waist would only be a size
6/8 meaning ‘curvy’ barbie is more ‘normal’ Barbie, and I feel
somehow Mattel are still instilling a litle bit of body negativity in
children with the use of the word curvy. However if Mattel did
produce a doll to reflect the average size of women across the uk,
5ft3in with a waist of 87.6cm, the dolls would be considered
overweight using height-to-weight ratio.

Mattel
states that, “Barbie is a doll. She is not meant to reflect a real
womans body. The purpose of introducing three new bodies into the
range is variety and differentiation.” says Sarah Allen from Mattel
UK and rightly so, society is full of different people in all shapes,
sizes and colours. I think it would be wrong to create a doll that is
overweight to show positive body images as being overweight is not
good for your body.

Lenore
Wright, from Baylor University, Texas, conducted a study in 2003 that
explored the role of Barbie, she found that the dolls shape was not
really important to children but her function was. And she can be
used to create, play and imagine.

Having
said that “psychologist Helma Dittmar, from Sussex University
conducted research in 2006 which found that children aged between
five-and-a-half and seven-and-a-half years old, were less satisfied
with their own body shape after reading a book featuring pictures of
the original barbie, those who read the same story without the images
were not affected.” which can lead to the question, is the media,
modelling industry and fashion world not to blame rather than a doll?

I
have come to the conclusion that the barbie collection is an amazing
look at how fashion has evolved in scaled down versions. I personally
love her and aspired to be like her but not every child does, most
use her as a toy to create stories like a boy would with action man.
Not everyone that wants to be barbie wants to look like her some just
wanted to be successful and have a family, big house, car and
husband. I feel that Barbie cannot be held accountable for girls
getting eating disorders when the modelling industries expectations
of beauty if almost as impossible as Barbie and this really is
showing girls if you want to be someone in the industry you should be
unhealthily thin. You cannot blame a fictional character while all
the time glorifying models in the fashion industry that are real
people and real examples of an unhealthy body image.