With all of the messages being thrown at our children daily–from health reports at school, to Photoshopped magazine covers to raunchy videos–it’s no surprise that body image is a delicate subject for some children. It’s tricky to balance the development of their self-esteem with the factors in our culture that may make our young ones feel inadequate based on messages of what the “perfect” body looks like–but as parents it’s so important to be mindful of these issues. We’ve seen firsthand the negative effects that the pressure to fit an ideal image can have, causing young girls (and boys) to succumb to extreme tactics in an attempt to transform themselves into what society defines as beautiful. We also cannot ignore the key role the toys that children play with has on these beliefs; the song said it best, “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world”.
So it kind of threw me for a loop when I heard that Kim Culmone, vice president of design for Barbie maker Mattel, said in a recent interview that the doll’s unattainable proportions are all for the clothes…period. “Barbie’s body was never designed to be realistic. She was designed for girls to easily dress and undress,” Culmone told Fast Company’s Co.Design. She explained that Barbie’s bizarre proportions are necessary for designers to create outfits for the doll; her body is designed to help the particular outfits she is sold with fit better. *blank stare*
Since 1959, girls have fantasized about Barbie and her “lifestyle” and lately the dolls have been all about her careers – a computer engineer decked out in binary code on her shirt, a presidential candidate, surgeon, news anchorwoman, astronaut, firefighter, dentist and a myriad of other professions usually consisting of men. To a young girl, it can inspire them to be anything they want; it provides a sense that a girl can do anything she dream about. While her professional repertoire has continued to expand and reinforce modern accuracy, her measurements have not. A life-sized Barbie would weigh only 110 pounds, stand at a height of 5 feet 9 inches and have a body mass index of less than 17; a woman in real life with these specifics would likely be diagnosed with anorexia, have thin brittle hair and be unable to menstruate.
This sounds oddly familiar…the fashion world claims thin models are needed to fit the clothing correctly. Playtime no longer sounds like playtime, life is imitating recess and vice versa. Expecting children to be able to differentiate between reality and fantasy with dolls that closely resemble humans seems absurd, especially when these principles are reinforced daily in the media; both on and offline.
Some claim that it’s all harmless and “just a doll” while others believe that the unattainable “Barbie” figure breeds self-loathing in little girls.
What do you think, are we teaching children that it is desirable to be very thin and strive for an unrealistic body?