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The Barbie complex



How much damage can a 53-year-old buxom blond have on girls’ self esteem and boys’ images of women?

Not enough to ban Barbies from one expert’s house.

Lilly Goren, professor of political science, religious studies and philosophy at Carroll University and editor of the book "You’ve Come A Long Way Baby, Women, Politics and Popular Culture," admits that her 6-year-old daughter, Sophia, owns multiple Barbies. "Sophia has a ballerina Barbie that was mine. She tends to cut all the hair off her Barbies," Goren adds, proudly.

For Goren, a bigger concern is the Disney princess obsession that has a strong grip on even younger girls. "The pretty, long-haired, slender, tall, generally non-ethnic portrayals of women; for a 3-year-old to understand what might be wrong with this picture is part of my difficulty."

Kate Masley, medical and cultural anthropologist agrees. "I think Barbie has set the standard — the skinny white blonde." Masley reluctantly applauded Mattel for its latest attempt to enhance the message. The "I Can Be" campaign features Barbie in a variety of careers, such as an architect (albeit with a minidress) and computer engineer carrying a pink laptop. Masley adds, "They’re trying to be empowering by telling girls, ‘you can be anything you want, like an architect, but a white, blond, tanned, glammed-up architect.’ There’s a contradiction with their campaign and the message they’re sending out."

Goren’s biggest issue is cover models plastered on magazines. "All the images we see of celebrities and models are photo shopped so their faces and bodies are not based in reality. The message that it sends: This is how you have to look. Anything less is unacceptable."

The pursuit of that fake perfection is a dangerous one. Goren says, "All these statistics with regard to eating disorders, psychological insecurity, breast implants, botox. Women and girls are pursuing unattainable ideas of beauty and the concept for men is that women should all look like this."

Barbie dolls will continue to fly off toy shelves, and new magazine covers will get displayed every month. Goren says parents and teachers have to make a conscious effort to counter these messages. "The effort to address it on an individual basis is to attempt to build up self-confidence and self-esteem that is built on all components of an individual, not only on appearance." Goren advises parents, "Tell your daughter she’s smart and funny, tell (your kids) they create beautiful art, they play violin well, so they understand they have a diversity of attributes to present to the world. They don’t have to make their way in the world based on their beauty."

Masley urges consumers to take action. "Do something, speak up and act, be on the Barbie website, write a letter to Barbie." Fortunately, feminism is alive and well: The National Organization for Women, created the annual "Love Your Body" campaign 14 years ago. According to NOW’s website, 80 percent of women in the U.S. are dissatisfied with their appearance. The purpose of the Love Your Body campaign is "to celebrate self acceptance and promote positive body image." Masley took part in a past Love Your Body program at Alverno College. She explains, "We would look at ads, and (students would) change them and make them empowering. They made a mobile out of them, they gave Barbie all this body hair." Masley adds that on pictures of models that were wearing the highest heels and had clearly airbrushed complexions, students wrote: "Don’t your feet hurt? Don’t you have any pores?"

Toy maker Lego recently rolled out a new line of toys geared toward girls age 5 and up that should excite parents of girls. Lego Friends’ 23 toys in new colors will hopefully get girls building and creating. While Lego Friends has plenty of pinks and pastels, the line may cut into the popularity of that buxom blond we sometimes love to hate.

A Living Doll

When legendary shoe designer Christian Louboutin dressed a limited edition Barbie in 2009, he asked Mattel to create an even thinner version of the popular doll. Why? According to Louboutin, her ankles were too big (ouch!). In response, put together a realistic look of what Barbie’s measurements would be if she was a real woman. Let’s take a look:

1. Barbie’s feet would be a child’s size 3.

2. Barbie’s bust size would be 39 inches, and she would have to crawl to support her top-heavy frame. Her bra size would be a 39 FF, putting Dolly Parton’s 40 DDs to shame.

3. Barbie’s measurements would be an unrealistic 39-21-33. The likelihood of a real woman having Barbie’s body shape is less than one in 100,000.

4. Barbie wouldn’t have room in her arms to have all her bones.

5. Barbie’s head would be almost triple the size of a normal-sized head. Her neck would be twice the length of a normal neck, and it would only be able to hold either a trachea or an esophagus — leaving her to choose between eating and breathing.

I think we know which she would choose ...

— Information courtesy of