Introducing....Curvy Barbie and the End to Body Image Discrimination........or Not?

Monday, February 15, 2016

What is the world coming to???  I've known for a long time that we live in a world filled with discrimination and intolerance, discrimination that sometimes extends to every aspect of one's being. From race to religion, skin color to economic status and sadly I'd be remiss if I did not include body image in this list.  Politicians boast of their work toward ending discrimination in the world, and no doubt they are trying.  It seems to me a daunting task, one with such far-reaching effects, within our geographic boundaries and beyond.  While our government and it's supporters work tirelessly to achieve world peace, a world where everyone can live in harmony regardless of their ethnic background or religion - toy companies tackle what they believe is their version of an end to discrimination and with the creation of  "inclusive' dolls.....inclusive meaning dolls of different body types such as curvy Barbie, petite Barbie and tall Barbie.  Mattel is tackling the subject of body type discrimination by creating a doll with thick thighs and wide hips that wears flats instead of high heels.  Intrigued?  Read on............


The original Barbie was launched in 1959.  That first year 350,000 were sold.  As a kid, I proudly owned several Barbie dolls.  I could sit for hours dressing and undressing them, creating a make believe world that Barbie, Ken, Midge and all the others lived in.  I doubt there were many girls who didn't collect Barbies.  My girls loved them too, in fact, I still have their collection along with an extensive wardrobe......all of which my five year old granddaughter enjoys now.  Everyone knew....back in the 50's and still in this millenium, that Barbie was the perfect girl.  She was tall and slender with perfectly shaped eyes, long silky hair, long legs and the perfect boyfriend.  Right?   After all, dolls - whether Barbies or baby dolls - exist for the purpose of kids creating a fantasy world.  So it seems logical that our fantasy dolls look like a fantasy.  The Disney Princesses sure do!

In 1967 Mattel introduced the first African American Barbie, Francie.  While this sounds like a good marketing idea, it met with some unsatisfactory reviews because the same head mold was used and just tinted. All the facial features were Caucasian, not African American.  It wasn't until 2009 that Mattel finally created a doll with a more realistic depiction of black people with their So In Style line.  Over the years, Mattel has tried to keep up and has made all sorts of Barbies.  They even had professional Barbies to show girls they could be anything they wanted to be.  In 1997 Mattel introduced a Barbie in a wheelchair.  Even that met with some criticism when a girl with cerebral palsy pointed out that the wheelchair would not fit in the Barbie Dream House.  In researching for this post I came across some interesting facts about the evolution of Barbie.  Here's a little excerpt from Wikipedia I think you'll find interesting......

Criticisms of Barbie are often centered around concerns that children consider Barbie a role model and will attempt to emulate her. One of the most common criticisms of Barbie is that she promotes an unrealistic idea of body image for a young woman, leading to a risk that girls who attempt to emulate her will become anorexic. A standard Barbie doll is 11.5 inches tall, giving a height of 5 feet 9 inches at 1/6 scale. Barbie's vital statistics have been estimated at 36 inches (chest), 18 inches (waist) and 33 inches (hips). According to research by the University Central Hospital in Helsinki, Finland, she would lack the 17 to 22 percent body fat required for a woman to menstruate. In 1963, the outfit "Barbie Baby-Sits" came with a book entitled How to Lose Weight which advised: "Don't eat!."The same book was included in another ensemble called "Slumber Party" in 1965 along with a pink bathroom scale permanently set at 110 lbs.,  which would be around 35 lbs. underweight for a woman 5 feet 9 inches tall.  Mattel said that the waist of the Barbie doll was made small because the waistbands of her clothes, along with their seams, snaps, and zippers, added bulk to her figure.  In 1997, Barbie's body mold was redesigned and given a wider waist, with Mattel saying that this would make the doll better suited to contemporary fashion designs. (Taken from Wikipedia)

And here we are in 2016 as Mattel is introducing yet another politically correct Barbie line, this one with 4 body types (tall, curvy, petite and original), 7 skin tones, 22 eye colors, and 24 hairstyles.  To view this assortment, you can use this link: http://www.barbie.com/en-us  It would seem this assortment would please just about anybody out there, but I have a feeling there will still be some who find fault.  

So why am I talking about Barbies today?  Well, let me say I've spent the majority of my life walking around as a minority - 4'8" and curvy.  Certainly I, of all people, see the blatant difference between me and the original Barbie.  Did I see it as a kid?  I'm pretty sure I did not.  As a teen when I may have been impressionable, I had stopped playing with Barbie.  Is Barbie an unrealistic representation of the human body?  For the most part, yes, but all you have to do is turn on the tv and the majority of women you see have the "Barbie" body, many looking as if they'd missed their last week of meals. Those women are living and breathing, acting and I think making a bigger impression on young girls than any doll will ever make.  Look at the Disney Princesses......Elsa and Anna, Rapunzel and Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty all have perfect bodies and nobody is telling Disney to fix that!   Why????  Because they are dolls - fictional characters, make believe, not real......just like Barbie.  

Do I think it's wrong of Mattel to introduce curvy dolls, dolls that look more like me?  No I don't. But why does it have to be such a big deal?  Why can't we just live in a world where we teach our kids that people are all different - some tall, some short, some curvy, some skinny.  Why can't we teach our kids to respect every body type, every skin color, every religion......just because that's the right thing to do.  You'd be surprised how many little kids look at me in a store and stare....why, because their parents never discussed that people come in all shapes and sizes and that even adults are sometimes not tall.  Perhaps their parents are Barbie and Ken!  Oh Mattel has a brilliant idea going .........a whole new line of body shapes along with a whole new line of clothes in different sizes....a whole new collection parents will be buying. Politically correct? For sure.........marketing genius, you know it!  Instead of buying your daughter a curvy Barbie how about talking to her about the merits of healthy eating and exercise?  How about discussing tolerance and acceptance of others, others who are not picture perfect?  How about teaching your kids that not all adults grow to be tall.  How about discussing how celebrities are probably starving themselves to keep their jobs, but are not necessarily the best role models? Like other morals and values, tolerance and respect begins at home.  It's taught and it's learned through discussion and example, just like healthy lifestyle habits.  We shouldn't need curvy or petite Barbies to teach our kids that people come in all body types.  But if we're going to, what about petite curvy Barbies while we're at it?  Discrimination!!! HaHa!  While body image is by no means as serious an issue as intolerance of race, religion or ethnicity, it is still worth talking about.  

Bravo Mattel for making an attempt to correct your 57 year example of the perfect body image, even if it isn't completely your fault teenage girls become anorexic.  Maybe the magazine covers and tv stars should join forces and start to present a more diverse set of standards for young girls to live up to. Heck....even Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition is jumping on that band wagon.  For the first time they are coming out with 3 different covers, one of them featuring a 'plus-sized' model.  Bravo for that!!  She's beautiful and she IS plus sized!  It's about time we embrace beauty that goes beyond perfection and maybe as soon as we, the adults, begin to practice acceptance and respect, our kids will too!

Curvy Barbie (image by Mattel)
To read more about Mattel's new line of Barbies and some interesting articles about them, use the links provided below:

And to see the three Sports Illustrated Swimsuit covers:

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5 Comments »

5 Responses to “Introducing....Curvy Barbie and the End to Body Image Discrimination........or Not?”

  1. LOL I'm 5' tall. Yea, no inches at all. And I started getting curves by the time I was ten and still playing with Barbie. (And at 43, I'm still .... sure, let's go with 'curvy'. LOL Each of my six children added more 'curves')

    I STILL did not get the message that I needed to look like her because ... well, she was made of plastic, had no genitals or nipples and had a painted face. She's a doll. :)

    LOVE your post and agree. And then ..... wow, they have short Barbie now, too? I think I might want that one!

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  2. LOL....thank you so much for reading and for your delightfully honest and funny comment. Funny fact....in one research study when the curvy Barbies were given to girls to play with, they all called the Barbie FAT. I guess we have a lot of work to do!

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  3. Interesting thoughts on this. I think it isn't about announcing that they're curvy, but just giving more options. I love the new line. I think they're really pretty and I've already purchased a bunch for my daughter. But I didn't "announce" them as curvy to her. She was just excited to have them.

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    Replies
    1. Good point Andrea! I hesitate to purchase one as it will result in the need for a whole new wardrobe 😉

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  4. I really like how they have variety... dolls that look like real people are better than ones that look like aliens from outer space in my opinion. I love fantasy, but if I wanted fantasy, I wouldn't be playing with a doll house and dolls to make them cook, clean, and go to work.

    But gosh, I wonder how much of this project was them trying to be better about body discrimination- or whether it was purely motivated by how much $ they will make now on more types of clothes.

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