When Barbie is mentioned, what image pops in your head? The iconic image of Barbie is a blonde haired, blue eyed, caucasian doll with a perfect body. Barbie dolls have slight variance in image. Sure, there are a few brunette and African American dolls, but the majority of Barbie products are generic. The existence of a redhead Barbie doll is extremely rare if not extinct. “Their image of the ideal girl is evidenced by the cover models: white, usually blonde, and invariably skinny.” (Higginbotham, 94) Girls like Lily are bombarded with imagery of perfect blonde hair that is unrealistic in itself. To get that perfect shade of blonde most (if not all) girls would have to alter their hair color with chemicals and bleach. Now why would a children’s toy be encouraging girls to idealize a trait that cannot be achieved naturally? It seems as if the company is creating this unrealistic image to mirror what magazines pose as the ideal body for teenagers and women. Almost as a precursor to magazines and models, Barbie is the ultimate influence in unrealistic body images.
Not only does Barbie set unrealistic expectations about body image, but also about race ratios. The caucasian and blonde Barbie is significantly more advertised and desirable than any other ethnic Barbies. “Granted, there is that one light-skinned black girl in every fashion layout. But she’s just as thin as the white girl standing next to her,” (Higginbotham, 95) Ethnic girls cannot relate to Barbie visually, so it is almost an exclusive club of those who can be like the doll. When going to the Barbie website, there overwhelming ratio of caucasian to African American dolls is immediately apparent. There few black Barbie dolls that do exist, are either stereotypically African American, with “ghetto” names such as “Trichelle”, or so light skinned that one can’t even recognize the difference in ethnicity. (Image 1). Barbie does not nurture the diverse races not only of America, but the entire world.
Also, Barbie is very gendered in that she is almost never depicted as a tomboy or is portrayed participating in any activity that is masculine. Regarding the gaping difference between masculine activities and feminine activities, Messner states: “For the boys in this study, it became "natural" to equate masculinity with competition, physical strength and skills. Girls simply did not (could not, it was believed) participate in these activities.”(Messner, 128) Barbie seems to back this belief, that girls cannot do what boys do. Even the “Barbie Camper”(Image 2) is incredibly feminine. The RV is gaudy and covered in pink and purple. The set comes with a portable pool, a hammock, an indoor toilet, a television, and a kitchen. Even when camping, Barbie still needs all the comforts and amenities of a home because she is a girl and cannot “rough it” like most boys can. This effectively discourages little girls from straying from the stereotype of a girly girl. If Barbie doesn’t ride motorcycles or play in the mud, little girls can’t either. Girls are expected to follow in the footsteps of Barbie, a stereotype almost nobody can fit into.
The way girls play with Barbie dolls involves dressing the doll up in fancy clothes and changing her hairstyle, as mentioned in the “Barbie Girl” song by Aqua. The toy advocates dressing up to impress boys, setting young girls up for the brainwashing from teen magazines and television shows in the future. Higginbotham explains the messages of teen magazines: “In each of these magazines, cover lines offer the girls ‘Model hair: how to get it,’ ‘Boy-magnet beauty,’ ‘Your looks: what they say about you,’” (Higginbotham, 94) which is strikingly similar to the image Barbie conveys. Barbie is always wearing makeup and high heels. She is always dressed in the most current fashions and never seems to be unpopular, therefore little girls want to follow her lead. By learning to change how they look to gain popularity at a young age, girls have no qualms about setting aside their self-esteem for a makeover at any age. Barbie dolls encourage girls to change how they look for others because beauty comes from the outside not the inside.
Little girls are being influenced by Barbie’s morals and the doll is becoming more and more popular every day. The doll positively reinforces a self image that is unattainable by most girls. Also, there is very little variety in the the doll’s image regarding race; this excludes girls who are ethnic and cannot find Barbie to be a plausible role model. Barbie stereotypes what acceptable activities for girls are, such as playing with hair, cooking, horseback-riding, etc. Masculine activities are disregarded a majority of the time, and when they are addressed, they are feminized with pink and other girly traits. Finally, the act of playing with Barbies enforces the idea that girls are to manipulate their appearance for others. Barbie is a very gendered toy and has the ability to subliminally inspire young girls to fit into the gender role.
Aqua. Barbie Girl. Aqua. Universal Music, 1997.
Higginbotham, Anastasia. "Teen Mags: How to Get a Guy, Drop 20 Pounds, and Lose Your Self- Esteem." Learning Gender. Print.
Mattel. BARBIE® SISTERS GO CAMPING!™ Camper. Digital image. Mattel Shop. Web.
Mattel. S.I.S.™ SO IN STYLE™ 2 SHOP™ TRICHELLE™ & CHANDRA™ Dolls. Digital image. Mattel Shop. Web.
Messner, Michael A. "Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities." Gender Socialization. Print.