Barbie's Birthday! But Not at Our House

by Danelle Frisbie © 2010

Image from BBC News

Barbie Millicent Roberts turns 51 years old today and she has yet to show any signs of aging (in stature or wisdom).

I'd venture to guess this is no new news to you -- but if Barbie's proportions were scaled up to a real life woman, we'd see quite frightening results. A 5'6" woman, for example, would need to have a 20-inch waist, a 27-inch bust, and 29-inch hips to match Barbie's proportions. If she kept her healthy 28-inch waist, she'd need to be 7'6" tall to match Barbie's dimensions.

Researchers at Finland's University Central Hospital in Helsinki reported that if Barbie were life size she would lack the minimum 17-22% body fat required for a woman to menstruate and be able to carry children.

A University of South Australia study released statistics that the likelihood of a woman having a body shape similar (but not necessarily identical) to Barbie is 1 in 100,000 -- so there may be some 'Barbie bodies' out there, but not many, and likely fewer still that have birthed babies into this world.

I grew up with a mother who was neither a self-proclaimed feminist, nor a door mat. She wasn't all that well-versed in cultural literacy, gender studies, and social sexism, but there were a few limitations in place at our home when I entered the world in the early 70s. One of them was a 'no Barbie dolls' clause. Surprisingly, I later found out this 'rule' was passed down from her father - an assertive Navy Captain turned engineer who lost his wife to cancer and was left to raise 3 daughters (and 4 sons) on his own in the 1950s.

Not only did my grandfather dislike baby dolls being left naked and 'unattended to,' but he did not care one bit for this new pseudo-woman known as Barbie. I occasionally wonder what my grandfather knew that caused him to take issue with Barbie... What were his reasons for this disdain? He passed away before I was mature enough to really ask him the hard questions, but I wonder if somewhere deep down, this tough man, who'd seen the whole world through war-stained eyes, had an intuitive sense of what little girls need, and don't need, growing up to be wise, confident, and self-assured women.

I never missed Barbie much throughout my childhood. We had far too many other adventures to keep us busy. There were dams to build and forts to construct and marshy wooded wonderlands to explore. Maybe it made a difference that my closest siblings were my brothers, and the neighborhood was filled with boys. Like it or not, life was rough and tumble and Barbie free. And I held my own quite well. I never felt different, or not one of them. Somehow I was unanimously named president of our 'group' -- one which I promptly named, The Bunny Foot Club, and the name remained unchallenged.

Our house today is still Barbieless, though her name was mentioned more than once throughout my Women's & Gender Studies courses in graduate school... It interests me, the ways that parents navigate these gendered waters of social construction within their children's play. And the fact that Barbie is still here - alive and well and still stirring up trouble 3 generations later - says something.

While I don't afford her the power to ultimately make or break a young girl's self-image, the sexualized culture of unrealistic (and unhealthy!) expectations that we push girls into - at ever more early ages - is in some ways propagated by our Barbie saturated world. I cannot help but hope there comes a day when I am able to walk into a store and not have the flashes of pink and plastic and flesh and sex defining all that is the girls' toy aisle from a hundred yards away. There must be more to our daughters' lives than this.


Related Books:

Female Chauvinist Pigs

Reviving Ophelia

Girl Culture


Sexy So Soon

The Lolita Effect

Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media

Related Articles:

McBarbie: Selling Sex with a Side of Fries

Toxic Toy Story []

No More Junk Toys: Rethinking Children's Gifts []


  1. Considering that the original model for Barbie was a sex toy that prisoners would buy and masturbate to, and was only slightly less suggestive than that as a girls' toy, I feel quite safe in having a Barbie-free house if I ever have girls.

  2. Just some food for thought from my 3 year old (at the time). After explaining why I didn't think Barbie was good for girls, she said "Mom, it's a doll! I don't want to look like Raggety Ann either!". I couldn't argue with her and I have since made peace with moderation.

  3. I absolutely agree with you. But at the same time, in moderations Barbie is just another doll amongst other dolls. THe movies are great, they really are ( don't roll your beautiful messages about friendship, being who you are, caring for the environment and so one. They do not emphasize beauty at all, they are beautful movies though and on a rainy day, they are beautiful to watch and learn from WITH my girls (yes I do sing along :P).

  4. tallulahnscarlettsmamaMarch 24, 2010 8:45 AM

    jess, i'm with you.while i don't agree with the body image barbie may convey,my daughter's do have some.the movies are lovely,my girls enjoy them+the beautiful classical music+songs.i've found the movies always have a very strong"girls can do anything"message too.i also feel that the strongest positive body/self esteem message has to come from me,their mum.being unschooled also helps,as the most powerful negative message comes from other children at school,which is very sad.i am going to slowly phase out plastic toys(including barbies)because of the dangerous things they contain.

  5. I am not for or against barbie in our house, we don't have any at the moment however(I have two daughters). I think one important thing to do is too just disscuss with your children(even sons) what we are looking at, and ask them the question of-"who do you know in our in our lives that looks like barbie?" because no matter where we go in the world,like stores with mags for example, we people, even men are faced with socitey version of "The perfect image" So I think more important then elimanting that image(since now a days that is impossible) is to just disscuss it with our children to create and to be critical, realistic thinkers.

  6. I always had barbies growing up and never once thought about looking like them. It never even crossed my mind that I wanted to craft my ideal body image off of a 12 inch doll. They were just a 3D extension of my imagination. I also played outside and did all the things that this post talks about. Sometimes, I took them along to be adventuresses.

    So, I do not think if raised well that a barbie will make a girl feel bad about her body. It is more the parents and how they themselves treat body image and the peers the children associate with that control how they develop a sense of self.

    I can not really see a girl raised in a healthy environment looking at her mom and other females around her alive, healthy and happy and instead wanting to look like her fake, plastic barbie doll.

    I do not think parents who deny barbies are doing anything wrong, BUT I also do not think everyone who lets their kids have barbies are enabling them or exposing them to a risk of eating disorders or issues with weight.

    I do wish more doll companies made dolls of all size. I would love to see a plus size doll and I actually love that barbie is now coming out with a tattooed barbie, because it is more representative of the diversity of people.

  7. Barbie is a problem- a big problem. It has been explained enough above with regard to body image, but even the less obvious messages sent to girls through these dolls are damaging, in my opinion. If you put aside her physic, she's still selling commercialism. Barbie has to have Ken (commercialism and reliance), then the car and the clothes and so on. I haven't actually seen them, but I am going to assume that Barbie movies are the same as all other movies associated with things you can buy: sugar coated ads for more stuff for you to buy.
    I, am not going to judge you or letting your daughter play with Barbie or watch Barbie movies, that's not what I mean. I am however, never going to let her or her stuff into my house.

  8. In response to Whittney; I don't think you can truly judge something without having experienced it. The Barbie movies are like any fairytale movie. They are geared towards some moral lesson i.e. sharing, friendship, self worth etc. I had Barbies all my life. I was and still am overweight and was and still am perfectly happy in my own skin. Barbie did not alter my perception of body image. She was an extension of my creativity. She provided me with a prop for playing house or teacher or whatever I was in the mood for. I could do with her clothes and hair things that I could not do to my own. However it is important to note that my mother was ever present and ever ready to make me feel good about myself and so I was not prone to look elsewhere for validation. I think keeping these dolls away from children is perfectly fine. As an example I absolutely will not bring Brats dolls into my house because the name alone is actually negative. However Barbie is not herself the picture of evil, in fact with her many careers, independence, handicaps, etc she can be a role model just as easily as she can be a poor representation of body image. As far as commercialism goes everything children are exposed to today is commercialized. Everything from Elmo to Disney channel is looking to get children to fall in love with them so that they will want Elmo cookies and Hannah Montana Jeans.

  9. I have a Barbie free home, but not by my choice - by my nine year old daughters choice. We have some barbie clothes that she got as hand-me-downs from her cousins, but we didn't get any dolls. There have been many occasions over the years where she had the choice to buy a Barbie or something else, and she always chose the something else. I have limited control over what my children are exposed to, and so my husband and I have tried to raise our children to make good decisions for themselves, whether we're watching or not. I think the most important thing is that the parents have a healthy self/body image, and they will teach their children by example and guidance to have the same.

  10. My body image came from my mother who talked with love about the short time she had the ideal figure. My Barbies were always pregnant. I put a dress on them with a loose elastic waist and shoved clothes underneath to simulate a pregnant belly. Barbie was just a doll to me and I had families for them with other poseable dolls as children for Barbie. They were a family and that's how I used them. I guess that talks about my desire for a close family gowing up that I didn't have.



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