Is Barbie to blame for young girls self-esteem?
If you enjoyed playing with Barbie as a young child, chances are you’ve read how damaging it was to a girl’s self-esteem. But was it really? Our writers, Basmah Qazi, one who loves Barbie and thinks we need to stop blaming our body issues on her and the other, Bree Hetherington, who thinks Barbie isn’t the greatest role model for young girls, have had it out on Facebook in a debate to settle it once and for all. So, is Barbie a bad role model? Or should we treat her as what she is: a doll?
Basmah: Why is everyone so against Barbie? So many people believe that Barbie and Disney Princesses spread bad body image. While they are skinny, and I do believe that they should release a doll who has a healthy body weight, I don’t understand why they compare Barbie’s body to a human’s body. It’s a doll, it isn’t supposed to be real and no matter how hard we try, it’s practically impossible for us to have her body. Growing up, I never had a bad body image because of Barbie. I used to think of her as precisely what she is, a doll.
Bree: But, Basmah, Barbie was designed and created to replicate human form. It’s not as if she has a cat face; she is the embodiment of a woman. Sure, in human proportions she’s short and big breasted and all the rest but there are women out there that look like that. Plus as far as a young girl can comprehend, she is a woman. She has a body, head and legs albeit not that functional. Young girls can’t grasp what we, as emotionally developed individuals and fully grown women can. We have spent our whole lives learning the difference. They don’t have that point of difference.
Basmah: It’s understandable, as I said before. I would prefer if Barbie had a more realistic figure. But in my opinion, dolls shouldn’t ruin a woman’s self esteem as she grows older. This doll, that has had multiple careers through her lifetime, isn’t the reason for anorexia and isn’t the reason why women hate themselves if they don’t have 39FF bra cup (Barbies real life chest size). As 5 year old girls, we don’t really think about our boob size, or how much we weigh. We start thinking about that as we get into adolescence and Barbie dolls aren’t to blame here. Teenage girls look up to celebrities, whether it’s Jennifer Lawrence or Kim Kardashian. By the time we start caring about how we look, Barbie has been long forgotten. Unrealistic beauty standards are set by photoshopped magazines, runway models and glamorous celebs, blaming a doll is a little far fetched.
Bree: But Barbie is BEAUTIFUL when you are little and that’s the point. The issues that you bring up come from the idea that we must be beautiful and our first encounter with “beautiful women” is Barbie. She is where our fascination begins, sure we move on to real life women later who certainly don’t resemble Barbie, but the reason we look to beautiful women comes from realising what beauty is. And we realise that something is beautiful when we are presented with this perfect plastic little doll that we love and adore. Sure she’s not directly responsible for anorexia and the alike but the obsession with other women begins here. Because she’s the first thing we idolise, which is exactly what we carry on until our later life when we grow up and find others that fit our ideal idea of beauty
Basmah: But there is nothing wrong with being beautiful. Instead of looking at the small picture, we should look at the big one. Barbie can be considered a feminist. She’s had over 150 different careers, whether it’s a business woman, doctor or astronaut. Yes, beautiful women can achieve that, and it’s breaking the stereotype and telling everyone that you can work hard, you can kick ass, and you can still look good doing it. When I was younger, I understood that Barbie isn’t a real person and she’s a doll. I never had aspirations to become her while I put her in her pink convertible and drove her around. I never aspired to be a 30 cm doll. Dolls don’t crush self-esteem, it’s campaigns such as Victoria’s Secret and so many other photos with “perfect women” is what crushes self esteem. Barbie in my opinion, is a good role model. She teaches girls about maintaining friendships, working hard, and so many other different life lessons. Beauty is just a small picture.
Bree: So does that not negate her feminist qualities? If she’s just a doll then how can she influence beautiful women being all about careers? If she has that influence then she must have a negative influence as well – which I believe is closing in perceptions of beauty. I don’t see how she could be a good role model without then being a bad role model in a lot of ways. You previously said that she cant influence things like becoming anorexic etc but then you say she can teach you friendship,hard work. So if you say that’s a possibility then how does she not teach you other things e.g she is purely successful because she is beautiful, white, blonde and rich.
Basmah: Yes she has an influence and her beauty is a part of it, but as I said beauty is part of the small picture, not no picture at all. You need to realise that Mattel (creator of Barbie) still needs to sell these dolls and unfortunately the case is, that they won’t sell as many dolls if Barbie wasn’t pretty. Yes, she should have a more healthier body, and yes, she should look more realistic, but in a business perspective that won’t happen. When you’re five-years-old, yes you admire beautiful women, but WOMEN not plastic dolls, if we’re going that in depth. Barbie is obviously artificial, and is very obviously plastic. Young girls know that they themselves are not plastic and they are not artificial. Girls love dolls, they love dressing up, crowns and tutus and there is nothing wrong with that. You have never seen Barbie holding a gun, you have never seen her spread bad morals and messages. Young girls are more influenced by what they are being taught, rather than who is teaching them. My grandmother, who was born way before Barbie, still used to fuss about the way she looked. Still cared about her weight and her hair. If a little girl sees another little girl holding a Barbie doll, that sparks conversation. That gives these girls something to talk about, and something to relate to. Playing with dolls gives young girls a chance to escape from the “adult” world, and have their imagination go on overdrive.
Bree: But that’s the point. The only reason she is successful is because she’s PRETTY. That’s what’s really wrong here. You say yourself that she wouldn’t sell if she was ugly. We idolise her for a reason and that’s the root problem. Yes, girls love dolls, therefore girls love plastic. Plastic doesn’t end at barbie, women can turn themselves to “plastic” and we do constantly trying to achieve this perfect woman status. No that’s not Barbies fault solely, but it begins here, it plants a seed. Barbie is so loved and adored and that’s exactly why women respond to her. Because everyone wants her, and therefore wants to be perceived that way too. As for women always caring about the way we look, yes we have and it’s certainly not going anywhere but I don’t think you say that Barbie isn’t partially at fault at the end of the day for adding to this. She is the one doll that is cloned over and over again. She will always be the same, and we will never look that way, and it causes serious doubts in young women and their own self esteem. Despite common sense, on some level,perhaps even subconsciously we identify with this mass produced piece of plastic. Yes little girls love them but it’s not only these dolls that allows young kids to explore their imagination, Lego teaches you a plethora of skills a Barbie never could. Ultimately there are a lot of toys that provide a lot more Barbie ever could and those toys will be the option I take when/if I have little girls.
Basmah: But have you ever asked someone if they wanted to look like Barbie? Anyone who does, e.g. Nicki Minaj, Valeria Lukyanova – these women are constantly made fun of on the internet for wanting to look like a plastic doll. YES, there are better toys that kids can play with, but Barbie is definitely not the worst. I loved playing with Barbie and I know many kids who love playing with Barbie as well and neither of them are obsessed with their looks. Neither of them are starving themselves to achieve Barbie’s body. If a young girl wants to wear a pretty dress because of Barbie, then good for her. When you have your hair done, and your best outfit on, you sure as hell feel confident, and while beauty does come from within (which barbie teaches as well), if doing that makes a girl feel good about herself then we should appreciate that. Barbie is used for nothing but fun and play. OF COURSE her body won’t be real human sized proportions, which is why she is a doll and not a real person. The truth is, Mattel never made Barbie so young girls self-esteem would be crushed. If it is crushing their self esteem, then it’s the fault of the parents for letting that happen. If anything, girls would start believing that they have to look like Barbie because society has said “Barbie is a bad influence, she’s too pretty to be a role model,” when really young girls probably didn’t have that mentality until society drilled it in their minds
Bree: The only thing I will say is that I feel like all of your points rely on women feeling confident and good about themselves and I just don’t think that’s the case in today’s society. We see it far too often, women uncomfortable in their own skin. Barbie adds to this problem, I believe! But what can we do? I guess we should just be thankful we don’t look like Bratz dolls, feet detached and all.
Who’s side are you taking for this great debate? Basmah or Bree’s? – Composed by Basmah Qazi and Bree Hetherington