‘Realistic’ Barbies will not solve body issues

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Author: Sydney Hemmendinger

Come March of this year, toy-making giant Mattel will premiere the first line of Barbies to include dolls with more “realistic” bodies than the slender, leggy and buxom classic Barbie. The “Fashionista Line” will introduce Barbies with three new body types: curvy, petite and tall. In addition to new bodies, this line will also feature Barbies with eight different skin tones. The company began to develop this project about two years ago, and executives hope that it will help Barbie return to her previous spot as the best-selling doll on the market. Dubbed with the mysterious title, “Project Dawn,” even employees’ spouses were not privy to the newest Barbie designs. The company intended to keep the planning stages quiet so that the reveal would make a bigger impression.

Senior Vice President Evelyn Mazzocco claimed that the company came up with these new Barbies in order to respect their “responsibility to young girls.” If all consumers were as naïve as Mattel seems to think they are, Mazzocco’s statement would appear plausible. Unfortunately for them, shoppers have lived through 57 years of big-boobed, toothpick-legged, rib cage-less Barbies, stripping this statement of any legitimacy. It is too late for Mattel to rebuild Barbie’s image. For generations, Barbies have created an unattainable standard for beauty that has damaged girls’ self-perception and self-worth deeply.

Mattel’s sales have steadily declined over the past three years, coinciding with an increasing amount of criticism leveled against Barbie’s unrealistic proportions. In 2014, Barbie’s sales dropped 16 percent, a financial blow from which Mattel has yet to recover. These new Barbies serve as Mattel’s attempt to convince parents that the dolls will not lead their children to be unhappy with their appearances, let alone develop eating disorders. Both of these claims have been proven to be true in some capacity. Researchers from the University of Sussex conducted a study in which they split participating girls, aged six to eight, into two groups to read picture books featuring either Barbie or more realistic-looking dolls. The results showed that, when asked about their self-image, the girls in the group with the Barbie books were more dissatisfied with their bodies than the others. Another study, conducted by researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands, provided six- to ten-year-old girls with either classic Barbies or realistic dolls to play with and then fed the girls afterward. Researchers found that the girls who played with Barbies ate significantly less than the other participants.

Despite Mattel’s best efforts, the company can’t solve this problem by simply introducing the new dolls. Yes, the collection features new body types, but young girls’ images of themselves are already tainted by unattainable beauty standards, and “curvy Barbie,” “petite Barbie” and “tall Barbie” will not change that. Furthermore, while these new Barbies have somewhat more natural body types, they are still largely unrealistic. All of these dolls have features Western society deems conventionally pretty. They all boast zero cellulite, stretch marks or blemishes, and wear more makeup than any Barbie-toting girl should want to wear. All of their bodies are hourglass figures. Additionally, petite Barbie and tall Barbie are just as emaciated as classic Barbie.

It has taken Mattel 57 years to design more anatomically diverse Barbies, which adds to this project’s insincerity. Body diversity only became an issue for Mattel when their sales began decreasing. With over 150 traditional Barbies on the market, adding a few differently shaped ones simply will not do enough.

Though Mattel should be commended for making an effort, the project will not meet its supposed goal of encouraging positive body image in girls. Although its intentions are at least somewhat benevolent, promoting confidence with a doll-like Barbie is impossible because although she now comes in a few more shapes and sizes, she’s still largely flawless. These new Barbies need to exist, but they are not enough to stop young girls from comparing themselves to Western beauty standards. If Mattel truly cared about young girls’ perceptions of themselves, it would discontinue all of the Barbies that came before the “Fashionista Line.” If the only dolls on the market looked more like their consumers, they would actually help promote self-love. If Mattel is trying to convince the public that young girls’ self-esteem is their primary concern, they should put their money where their mouth is and take classic, impossible-to-resemble Barbie off the shelf and exert genuine effort to create dolls that girls can relate to and feel empowered by.

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