Be Well, Marsha 2/23/16

I’m no Barbie girl

By Marsha Bonhart

I helped my parents save a lot of money when I was growing up. Tomboys only want a Louisville slugger, any kind of ball, a new baseball glove every now and then, a pair of Keds and a box of rubber bands to keep the braids and pony tails out of the way.

Because their little girl was basically a boy (and they weren’t alarmed by it), back then there was no cause for my mom and dad to buy every new “thing” that advertisers were pitching at parents of girls. So, they were lucky I never cared whether I was growing into the slender, sleek, perfectly proportioned body that was part of the doll culture back in the day. Okay, America, I never had a Barbie, and what’s more shocking—I never asked for one.

Maybe it’s not fair for me to herald that I didn’t want to be a part of the 1959 Barbie explosion. Blonde with blue eyes, a tight, hold your breath waist and an ample bust line, Barbie was billed as the hottest doll ever created. My friends thought they were supposed to mimic and master that so called perfection, and despite genetics, secretly wanted to have what they thought was the faultless physique.

In an article published in 2006 by the American Psychological Association, researchers measured the responses of 162 girls, ages 5 to 8. They were exposed to images of Barbie and another line of dolls with plump features and then were assessed. The girls exposed to Barbie had lower body esteem with a greater desire for a thinner shape. However, the study showed older girls in that same experiment did not have the same reaction. The findings suggested that earlier exposure to dolls with illusory images may damage body perceptions—possibly leading to eating disorders and weight cycling.

Since Barbie’s inception, manufacturer Mattel, Inc., has been heavily criticized for promoting what is considered the doll’s unrealistic body image. For instance, Barbie’s ensemble bathroom scale was set at 110 pounds for her standard vital statistics of 5’ 9” with body measurements at 36” – 18” – 33.” The Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders claims no woman could ever hope to have such impossible dimensions. Nearly 20 years ago, Barbie was redesigned with a slightly larger waist, but not until now has her image literally expanded to create a major change. A few weeks ago, new Barbies were revealed and one of those images “has a little more Barbie” in the back and front. The curvier change is drastic—but realistic. Now, Barbie looks more like diverse body images.

Dorianne Johnson, the athletics director at Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio says she is glad to see Mattel designers include Barbie images that represent what the majority of girls really look like. “The new shape is a start, it’s saying, ‘I don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.’”

The 1963 Barbie collection included a diet book with only the words, “don’t eat” written inside. That, psychologists feel, was creating the idea that little girls need to diet which can develop eating disorders, carrying anxieties that admire the false norm of a thin woman. The Yale study showed when girls ages 6 to 10 were assigned to play with dolls that were very thin or average sized, the children who played with the thin doll ate significantly less food.

Time magazine recounted an incident in Mattel’s testing room. The reaction from a 6-year-old girl looking at the new curvy Barbie was one of repulsion. “Hello, I’m a fat person,” the child was quoted as singing as her little friends burst into laughter. Her response lightened when the adult tester asked the child’s opinion of the doll.

“This one’s a little chubbier,” an 8-year-old responded. “She’s, well, you know … ”

A 7-year-old was too shy to actually speak the word, so she spelled, “f-a-t,” because she said she didn’t want to hurt the doll’s feelings by saying its image was overweight. Mattel researcher Tania Massad was quoted in the article as saying, “Over time I would love it if a girl wouldn’t snicker and just think of it as just another beautiful doll.”

Huffington Post quoted another child who identified with the curvier Barbie because she said, “some people don’t look like that,” describing the original Barbie. Another little one in the article thought the newer, heavier Barbie looked “really strange” but “sort of normal.” One test included a boy’s opinion who said curvy Barbie was “more fat.” Psychologists feel the descriptions in this testing showed how the Barbie body can influence kids on what they feel is the ideal woman.

The other images of the new Barbie include petite and tall. I’m sure if I had not been so occupied with Willie Mays’ home run and stolen bases stats, I would have noticed and been influenced by the 1959 original’s “perfection.” But there is no doubt the curvy doll is the body type that really lets girls know its not your shape that is important because we all come in different sizes and configurations—boys could learn that as well.

Be well,

Marsha

Marsha Bonhart is a freelance writer and public relations/marketing consultant in the Dayton area. She can be reached at MarshaBonhart@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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