The impossible trend: look like Barbie

// 18 April 2012

Tags: , , ,

This is a guest post by Elin Weiss & Hennie Weiss

1964-1965 Barbie doll with ponytail

First recorded as popular in Japan, a new trend for young girls all over the world is hitting youtube: to look like a Barbie doll.

The trend consists of applying makeup, doing one’s hair, and dress in ways as to resemble a Barbie doll. Young girls and women are posting videos of themselves on youtube in which they give advice on how to apply makeup and how to do their hair in order to look like Barbie dolls. This trend has apparently taken off and is becoming quite popular with certain girls being seen as the ‘better Barbie’ or more ‘popular Barbie’.

There are also websites dedicated to teaching girls how to look like Barbie and tips on how to take care of one’s body and hair in order to look more like the plastic doll. When searching the Internet it is easy for girls to find tutorials on how to master the look of Barbie and how to create ‘Barbie hair’ and how to achieve a ‘Barbie face’.

It is troubling that young girls aspire to look like Barbie dolls. First off, we all know how much criticism the Barbie dolls have received for their anatomically incorrect and impossibly super slim bodies. Secondly, Barbie has also received criticism for promoting unhealthy body ideals and influencing young girls into believing that the Barbie body is common and attainable and more attractive than their own. This is a troubling thought since, according to a news article in the Huff Post, Barbie’s height (if she was a living woman) would be 5’9″ tall, with and bust of 39″, a waist that is 33″, while she would wear a size 3 in shoes. Barbie would then weigh 110 lbs with a BMI of 16.24, which lands her in the BMI range of anorexic. Due to her anatomically incorrect body Barbie would have to walk on all fours. The same news article also stated that: “Slumber Party Barbie was introduced in 1965 and came with a bathroom scale permanently set at 110 lbs with a book entitled “How to Lose Weight” with directions inside stating simply ‘Don’t eat'”.

One might think that young girls understand that Barbie’s looks are unattainable and unrealistic, but do they really? This is not always the case. Some girls grow up to idolise Barbie to the point where they try to emulate her looks completely. Three real life examples are UK women Sarah Burge and Charlotte Hothman, as well as American Cindy Jackson. Burge had more than 100 cosmetic surgeries in order to look like a human Barbie doll. Hothman has spent over £10,000, while Jackson spent more than $100,000 on cosmetic surgery. All three women stated that their obsession with the Barbie doll started when they were young girls, and that they have always wanted to look just like Barbie.

It is quite disturbing that this trend has surfaced among very young girls. It appears as if the obsession with appearance in young girls is getting more and more severe, especially now when some girls are attempting to attain a specific body weight and size that is constructed for nonhuman objects. It does seem as if the obsession with a certain appearance is indeed reaching younger and younger girls. It is important to care for one’s health but an excessive fixation with one’s appearance does seem unhealthy in regards to the expectations placed on these young girls. Since no person is perfect (and what is perfection anyway?) this type of fixation with beauty can probably only lead to unhappiness and body dissatisfaction in the long run.

There is tremendous diversity in terms of body size, shape, height, and overall appearance among women. Some women are naturally very slim, some are very curvy, some have large breasts, some have smaller breasts, some are short and some are tall. In short, there is no limit to the ways that women look. What the Barbie ideal is perpetuating, however, is one type of body, one that is anatomically impossible, and one that is anorexic. Idealising the body of Barbie also trivialises and glorifies the eating disorder anorexia, a disorder that millions of girls and women suffer from, and that many also die from.

It seems that the obsession with appearance and a certain type of beauty has gone so far as to now include the fixation with impossible to reach and inhuman beauty. Now more so than ever, young girls are on diets and are very unhappy about their body size and appearance. Many of these young girls are being taught that appearance and beauty is more important than any other characteristic or trait.

We find it inappropriate that young girls are being displayed this way on youtube (even if they post these videos themselves) and we do believe that this new trend is damaging to young girls’ self-esteem and body image since it promotes a distorted idealisation of the female body while perpetuating the notion that one’s body is never good enough. Young girls should not be compared to dolls. Seeing the above facts make it even more disturbing that Barbie serves as the perfect ideal when it comes to girls and women’s appearance.

————

Elin Weiss has a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies. Hennie Weiss is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Sociology. Their interests include feminism, gender, the sexualisation of women and the portrayal of women in media.

The image FAVE #850 Barbie blonde #8 Ponytail (1964-1965) is from Tinker*Tailor loves Lalka’s Flickr photostream and is used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.

Comments From You

Douche,BagandShoes // Posted 18 April 2012 at 8:20 pm

Interesting (and alarming!) post. Although I am concerned about the authors’ use of anorexia as an adjective rather than a medical condition. I get uncomfortable when anorexic seems to be used interchangeably with thin: e.g., ‘What the Barbie ideal is perpetuating, however, is one type of body, one that is anatomically impossible, and one that is anorexic’.

At Douche, Bag and Shoes we have recently published an article on the potential reclamation of ‘ugly’ which may be of interest?:

http://douchebagandshoes.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/i-am-ugly.html

Rose // Posted 19 April 2012 at 1:51 pm

I read your post, then went and ate a huge lunch. Good times.

Social awareness of diets first appeared (in my life) when I was 9, a couple of my friends alreadying dieting, and forming eating disorders at that age. One hiding in the school toilets at lunch time to avoid eating, off course, she was thin before the dieting started.

As a bi woman I can honestly say that I don’t find the Barbie figure attractive, the most it does with me is inspire compassion – but never passion.

Having been really thin in the past, (due to poverty), I found that the guys who were attracted to me when I was dangerously thin, were those who wanted power over me – a lover that couldn’t fight back. Where as guys who showed interest when I was healthier, and stronger, wanted a more interactive mutual relationship. I also found that when I was thin, male lovers wanted to keep me thin, for the sake of their sexual gratification regardless of the obvious danger to my health – whereas guys who liked me when I was fit and healthy, encouraged me to mantain my health for my own sake. I find that telling.

(I have found female lovers to be generally more accepting of variation in the female form. One had an eating disorder and liked having an equally thin partner – but did not try to exercise control over my weight. On seeing me, some time later, once I was no longer in poverty, and had reached a good weight (for me and my build), she complimented me on looking healthy – some guys told me I’d let myself go!).

Elin // Posted 19 April 2012 at 4:54 pm

Douche,BagandShoes:

Thanks for finding the article interesting, that’s good to hear.

We get what you are saying about using the term anorexia interchangeably with thin. We felt, however, that Barbie’s weight does not put her in the thin category but her BMI together with her body shape shows that her body weight would be clearly anorexic. We know that calculating BMI can be flawed but in the case of Barbie we don’t think it is!

Thanks for providing the above link.

Rose:

Such an interesting comment. We’ve never really reflected over weight in relationships but what you write makes perfect sense. It is disturbing that some people feel like you have let yourself go even if you go from unhealthy to healthy!

Lucy // Posted 19 April 2012 at 5:44 pm

It just goes to show how little progress we have really made in terms of how women are perceived in our society.

I myself developed an eating disorder at a very early age, owing to being ridiculed at school as well as by my parents for being a chubby child. It’s funny because then I was under the impression that I must be borderline obese, but looking at pictures of my pre-eating disorder self, I was actually just a healthy looking child.

It’s a sad fact that out of five children, who were of similar build, I was the only one constantly being told I was too fat and that I should go on a diet. This was down to the fact that I was the only girl, and a girl’s only goal in life is to secure a husband (according to my parents and their ‘values’), which is impossible if you are not physically attractive ie thin.

Luckily, I have made it out of this toxic environment, but I think we really have to stop reducing women to their outward appearance. In my opinion, we could stop by putting if not a ban, at least health warnings on airbrushed images of already too-thin models and telling the various high street retailers to start using more realistic mannequins for their store displays. Anyone looked at these lately? Some of them actually have their rib cages showing.

It is simply not enough to serve up a couple of empty slogans about ’embracing your body’, when the whole media/retail/advertising industry is generating a completely different image at the same time.

Anarcho // Posted 19 April 2012 at 6:04 pm

@Rose : Exactly ! MY first ever long term relationship functioned exactly alongside those dynamics… I was very slim then (52 kgs for 1m65) and yet he constantly commented on my weight and shape, apologizing to his mates one day that I didn’t have big tits (which totally destroyed my confidence) and making comments whenever i put on weight, which sent me at the age of 18 into a crucifying crash diet which had my family seriously worried. And now, 15 years on and a stone heavier, finally at peace with my body, I have boyfriends who treat me like an equal, and call me beautiful all the time… My ex, on the other hand, is going out with 19 year old women (he’s 37) whose confidence he continues destroying, only to wonder why he cannot find a fulfilling relationship… I don’t want this to sound like a rant at the bloke, because it isn’t, but your post just made me realize he’s stuck in the Barbie myth too, looking for a fragile doll instead of an actual flesh-and-blood equal.

Building girls’ self esteem and ability to see their own beauty is one of the key challenges facing our generation. I don’t want my little sister, my daughters to go through the same years of irrational self-hatred. Years during which, had I been able then to see my own beauty, I could have achieved much more artistically and professionally, and instead of that I cried and starved and self-harmed. And for what ? No Barbie was ever manufactured with an articulated middle-finger. Now what does that tell you ? ;)

Glosswitch // Posted 19 April 2012 at 11:51 pm

Thanks for writing this!

If you’ve suffered from an eating disorder, it can be incredibly humiliating and embarrassing to admit that pop culture crap such as Barbie dolls influenced it. It feels as though you’re trivializing yourself and the suffering you and those around you went through. I suffered from anorexia and for years I put it all down to “family trauma”, letting all the hateful media messages surrounding me completely off the hook. But I think while personal traumas can make you vulnerable to anorexia, pop culture can really fuel and perpetuate it.

I would say now that a massive influence for my anorexia was not Barbie, but the Sweet Valley High series and in particular a book called Power Play, in which, basically, a fat “greedy” girl loses masses of weight and gets to be popular like the Wakefield twins. When I look at this written down, it seems completely ridiculous given the years of suffering that ensued. But if I’m being honest, I think it’s true. So essentially, you really have to write about things like Barbie and hone in on what appear to be little fluffy pink trivialities – because they’re not.

Laurel // Posted 20 April 2012 at 2:58 pm

i do think it is important to factor in that certain subcultures both in and outside of Japan focus on trying to look like a certain “type”. is the worry with this one down to our associations with that type rather than those of Japanese girls’?

because if you were to look up something like visual key or reki-jo you would find young girls adopting similar looks and mannerisms to a particular type which extend far beyond being goth or punk, but taking on a whole persona.

something like lolita or ko-gal specifically sexualises school girls and things which may be associated with youth, even though they arent especially sexualised or problematic to look at, the look that they are trying to achieve and why can be. there are a lot of japanese looks which are about women looking cute and young and submissive.

if you look at the Harajuku punks, one of the big looks for them is Ganguro, which is darkening their skin into a tan and basically looking like a parody of westerners. despite in many ways conforming to western beauty standards it is actually seen as a rebellion against their own where white skin is considered most desirable. you could see the Barbie look as a muted version of that possibly.

basically i dont think Barbie is the problem so much as our limited ways of expressing ourselves often being linked to perceived males sexuality. check out “Gyaru” in particular, which you will likly find in google surrounded by ko-gal and ganguro.

Laurel // Posted 20 April 2012 at 3:02 pm

(though i suggest looking up ko-gal with safe search on)

Mr. Rude Word // Posted 20 April 2012 at 10:55 pm

A feminist article that, yet again, underestimates the intelligence of girls and young women. This “issue” has only been brought to the public’s attention because a British teenager has received millions of hits on youtube…the real “alarming trend” is the outrage with which her videos have been greeted. It might just be that this teenager is inventive & intelligent with a keen eye for the absurd and an interest in pop culture, rather than an obsessive & disturbed girl who is promoting unhealthy “ideals” of female beauty.

Did it not occur to the writer that the young women transforming themselves into “living Barbie dolls” might in fact be engaged in playful satire, or does that not make good feminist reading? It’s hardly a new “trend” in any case…you can trace this kind of behaviour back centuries. Geishas being the most obvious parallel.

Justine Ossum // Posted 21 April 2012 at 12:29 pm

Just did a quick Google Image search for the two British women mentioned, as I’d never heard of them before and I was curious to see if they were Barbie-like. What struck me was the sense of sexualisation in the images that looked like they were professional photo shoots, moreso than when I did a similar search for the American woman mentioned. That may be down to the tabloid culture here, and that the United States is, generally speaking, a more conservative culture.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds