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In this presentation I will be analyzing the role that the Barbie doll plays in young girls’ development in the United States. I will focus on the doll as a commodity that exploits the insecurities that young girls have in the developmental stages of their lives due to its unrealistic example of the female body. I will further examine the negative effects of the doll on young girls in terms of increased body shame and loss of self-esteem and confidence when they are exposed to the impossible standard of beauty the doll represents. It is important to address how and why these symbols and stigmas are attached to a plastic object that are purchased for young girls every day. I will examine the disproportionate body parts of the Barbie doll that researchers have determined are anatomically incorrect. Studies have shown that if Barbie were to be a real person she would be 5’9” tall, have a 39” bust, an 18” waist, 33” hips and a size 3 shoe. Also, weighing around 110 lbs, Barbie would have a BMI of 16.24 and fit the weight criteria for anorexia. I plan to focus on young girls’ obsession with body image and further an image that is detrimental, as it resembles Barbie’s figure. I will examine the negative impacts that a single plastic doll has on the majority of the population of young girls who get their hands on a toy like this one and further, the importance that this message carries. Through the framework of this class and our discussions on beauty standards, self-love, commodification and beauty marketing, the doll is clearly not as “fantastic” as it claims to be.
Best, Joel. “Too Much Fun: Toys as Social Problems and the Interpretation of Culture.” Symbolic Interaction, vol. 21, no. 2, 1998, pp. 197-212. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/si.19126.96.36.199.
This journal article written by Joel Best, tracks the impact of children’s toys in our current society. Best has a PhD in Sociology and dedicates his work to understanding more complex issues that are apparent in our modern culture. The article starts a discourse on the idea that toys are subject to contemporary claims concerning social problems. At a young age, children are vulnerable and susceptible to a large array of societal forces, the most prominent being toys. Children learn about their world as they play with toys that have certain images, created by society, attached to them. By Best’s logic, toys are a force that helps maintain the dominant culture around us. For example, the Barbie doll has been a center of attacks on gender expectations and stereotypes. Barbie is considered “empty headed”, “passive” and “uneducated” while also setting an unattainable standard of beauty. The toys that children play with are expressing the voices of the society around them. A few questions are further posited by Best to further inquire why children are susceptible the messages behind commodities like the Barbie doll. He wonders if girls “define Barbie in positive terms and therefore decide that they want to be thin like her? Or does Barbie constrain their freedom of thought so they cannot imagine any alternative to being like Barbie?” The people in a certain culture define meaning to commodities like Barbie. This article further suggests that toys do not necessarily embody the messages themselves; it is the society that assigns these messages as the culture evolves. For my research this article is helpful specifically to the notion that toys play a significant role in a young child’s life. For a topic like mine on a Barbie doll’s influence on the body image of young girls, Best touches on the commodity of the Barbie dolls in a myriad of ways including why and how the doll has been controversial for many years. However, there is no specific evidence that provides a concrete example of this at work in the real world. Best’s analysis in this article exposes a shortcoming due to his reliance on personal analysis rather than an actual experiment. Although there is a lack of scientific research in this particular article, Joel Best is an educated scholar on the topic of sociology leading me to assume his work is credible. The implications of the Barbie doll and the way in which it is presented in this article tailor well to the main topic of my project on the issue of the doll’s impact on body image for young girls. I will utilize this information as evidence as it relates to our class’s discussion on marketing and selling beauty. This article further provides necessary information on the idea that insecurity sells by exploiting children’s development when they grow up to believe there is a certain beauty standard that exists in their societies.
Dittmar, Helga, et al. “Does Barbie Make Girls Want to Be Thin? The Experimental Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5 to 8 Year Old Girls.” Developmental Psychology, vol. 42, 2006, pp. 283-92. JSTOR.
Helga Dittmar is a professor of Psychology at the University in Sussex, England. This is the first research of its kind on the impact of Barbie dolls on the bodies of young girls. From a study of 162 girls ranging from the age of 5 to 8, Dittmar wanted to assess body dissatisfaction after exposure to certain photographs of Barbie dolls. Some of the dolls were the traditional doll of Barbie, the other Emme displaying a more average body size and a baseline control group of no dolls at all. After the exposure they completed an assessment of their idea of ideal body image. The results indicated a greater desire for a thinner body and lower self esteem after exposure to the Barbie dolls than the girls in the other groups. Relating to my research at hand, the study ends with a conclusion based on age group. Dittman states that the immediate negative impact of the Barbie doll was no longer evident in the oldest girls that participated in the study. This further implies that even if the dolls “no longer serve as an aspirational goal for older girls, early exposure to the Barbie doll, optimizing an unrealistic body ideal, may damage a girls body image”. A link between this article and the previous one listed provide optimal evidence for this topic on Barbies and body image. This similarity lies in the idea that fantasy and play are vital parts of the socialization process for young children to learn ideals and values from their society. Dolls therefore provide a tangible image of the body that can be internalized as the ideal body type they should adhere to. Dittman continues to delve even further into this idea and brings about an idea beyond the previous articles explanation. She posits that the use of the “Meadian” concept of taking the perspective of another can help explain how material objects, like the Barbie doll, can function as socialization agents whose essential qualities are desired and eventually internalized as aspects of one’s ideal self. After careful research, Dittman conducts a study that provides clear evidence to her theory, the use of Barbie dolls in a young girls early years leads to detrimental effects on body image when they are old enough to identify with said Barbie doll. A few shortcomings of the study are explained at the end in the author’s own notes. Dittman addresses that the sample size was smaller and from only one regional context and although generalizability is possible it cannot prove with certainty. Another shortcoming for my consideration of my project is the study as a direct experiment rather than a longitudinal one. The girls were assessed once on the effect on body image rather than over time for long lasting effects. No matter, I will utilize this study in my own research as clear evidence of the roles of the Barbie doll in our society. Dittman highlights a lot of the same concerns that my topic wishes to uncover like the “default aesthetic” and young impressionable girls becoming more aware of their differences reflecting on that of a Barbie doll that we have learned in our class. Moreover as discussed in class, we are living in a lookist culture that requires young women to compare, compete and measure up to the beauty standards apparent in society.
Stone, Tanya Lee. The Good, The Bad, And The Barbie. New York, Penguin Group,
Tanya Lee Stone’s book The Good, The Bad And The Barbie, focuses on the dolls as a phenomenon and further how they have affected our society throughout their history since production in 1959. Stone is a well-known published author introducing themes in her books like empowerment of girls and strong women. Her credibility is largely related to her awards for multiple published books and studies of English at the Masters level. In the specific chapter chosen for this research presentation, “Plastic Makes Perfect”, Stone points out the destructive characteristics of the Barbie doll on young girls who play with them. The doll picked up popularity when the Women’s Movement arose only a short time after the doll was in stores. Although it was subject to more criticism than good business, the maker, Ruth Handler thought she had made the doll pretty bland so a wide range of young girls could identify with her more easily. However, as the doll got more popular, Handler wanted to follow where the money was leading her. Profits showed that when the doll increasingly gets prettier the sales were going up each time a small transformation was made to the appearance of the doll. From Stone’s chapter it seems as if many people are concerned with the way that the plastic doll was becoming something a lot of people closely relate to an actual human. From this we unconsciously think that this is a realistic body type out in the world. We even place this image onto other girls that look like the human version of Barbie and use that as an anchor for our insecurities. For my research, this chapter provides a deeper insight into the way that Barbie is perceived as an actual person. The information regarding young girls experiences pulled from personal stories, historical insight into the commodification of beauty and the standards set by a plastic doll sets the stage for body image issues in their present realities. Although the book does not specify it’s research on the age group I am looking at, the overall messages are the same comparing them to other sources. The information provided allows me to better understand how the doll became so popular and the different perspectives actual girls from a range or backgrounds and ages have had. The marketing of beauty and the priority this takes in our society over Barbie’s life span is explained in more detail which helps my topic add another level to it’s analysis of the doll. The chapter also adheres well to the discourse of our class as the commodification of beauty takes root in these Barbie dolls spanning over 60 years.
Lakrtiz, Talia. “Barbie Dolls through Years.” Business Insider, 6 Mar. 2018,
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