Beacon Features: Barbie’s 50 years of beauty and controversy

By Evelyn Ticona
Features Editor

It’s Barbie’s 50th birthday and Mattel, in a partnership with Universal Studios, has decided to celebrate her half-century anniversary by bringing her to the big screen in a motion picture. Barbie is a fashion icon and has inspired girls and women in many ways all over the globe.

Everywhere, women are bombarded with images of perfection. Since her release on March 9, 1959 at the Toy Fair in New York, Barbie has definitely been one of the first images of female beauty that girls see, sometimes before they’re even old enough to talk.

Barbie captivated the attention of the toy industry and received immediate acceptance of potential buyers. However, Barbie has also received criticism regarding her unrealistic proportions and the effects this may have on young girls.

“Barbie continues to find new ways to inspire and encourage the next generation of girls,” says about the transcendental impact that Barbie has had throughout the years.

According to the official Web site, “Barbie” has represented 50 nationalities. However, the site fails to mention that the dolls still all have Caucasian features. None has bigger lips, a wider nose or bigger hips, so does Barbie really represent these nationalities?

Photo by Kristina Webb / Managing Editor

Photo by Kristina Webb / Managing Editor

The site reports her “real” measurements at 5 inches (bust); 3 1/4 inches (waist); and 5 3/16 inches (hips). Barbie weighs in at a sprightly 7.25 ounces; transformed to a real person, that would be undeniably unhealthy.

Dr. Angie McDonald, associate professor of psychology at Palm Beach Atlantic University, argues that the challenge is how to separate Barbie’s body image and the fact that she represents what we see in magazines from the doll itself.


Photo by Kristina Webb / Managing Editor

Photo by Kristina Webb / Managing Editor



“Barbie represents many of the false images we have in society,” McDonald added.

Academics from the University of South Australia suggest that chances of finding a woman having Barbie’s body shape is one in 100,000. Moreover, researchers at Finland’s University Central Hospital say if Barbie were a real woman she would lack the 17 to 22 percent of body fat required for a woman to menstruate.

“Barbie’s proportions have been under scrutiny during the past 20 years and they [Mattel] haven’t made any changes. That tells you that they are mostly concerned about making money,” McDonald said.

Studies made by the Wellness Resource Center at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee confirmed that a human version with Barbie’s body proportions would only have room for an esophagus or a trachea in her neck, a tibia or a fibula in her legs, and that she would have to crawl to support her top-heavy frame.

Eating disorders are a growing and alarming issue in America. However, young girls and teenagers look up to a doll with unhealthy and unrealistic measurements.

Research found in the article “Early adolescents’ experiences with, and views of, ‘Barbie’” revealed a high rate of “torture play” and “anger play” associated with the Barbie doll. Girls admitted to blaming the image of Barbie for their self-consciousness and lack of self esteem due to the simple impossibility of living up to the standards of beauty presented by the plastic doll.

Despite these facts, the same participants confirmed they like the doll and would keep playing with it regardless of their frustration.

According to McDonald, studies performed among young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have demonstrated that the average woman wants to be eight pounds lighter while men want to be five pounds heavier.

She also brought up the fact the Americans are obsessed with their weight, but have so many overweight cases resulting in the loss of the idea of a healthy image.

Barbie is not the only doll drawing criticism from the health community: The “Bratz” doll, manufactured by Micro-Games America Entertainment (MGA), has also raised questions. The definition of a brat in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is an ill-mannered annoying child, or a spoiled and immature person. These dolls depict the image of young girls who want things to be their way and act as older teenagers who wear suggestive clothing.

“As parents, we are responsible for any kind of toy that we are providing for [children],” McDonald said. “But as a psychologist I’m skeptical about Barbie really doing the harm.”

A report made by the American Psychological Association demonstrates that “Bratz,” designed for girls from 4 to 8 years old, are associated with an objectified adult sexuality since they come dressed in sexualized clothing such as mini-skirts, fishnet stockings and feather boas.

Some corporations are taking a stand against the unhealthy ideals that girls and women face. Dove has released a campaign highlighting the different perceptions of beauty in women and encouraging them not to pursue irrational ideals of superficial beauty.

Featuring photos of everyday women, the Campaign for Real Beauty has helped to fund the Dove Self-Esteem Fund reaching young girls and women of different ages who are dealing with the self-esteem issues. “After the workshop I understand you don’t have to be perfect, you can just be you,” said one of the girls who participated in Dove workshops.

“Barbie” will hit the movie theaters represented by a real woman who may need to have Barbie’s proportions in the same scale as the plastic doll.

Which Hollywood actress would be able to play Barbie in this upcoming movie? Leave a comment to let us know what you think!


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