The SUN papers today ran a story on how Barbie was “Not the girl next door”.
In fact for a woman celebrating her half-century, Barbie is being called a bad influence on young girls and a real threat to the self image of female pre-teens. Suzanne Phillips with Canada’s National Eating Disorders Information Centre says that Barbie is one of the first role models that young girls have as a play toy, and as such represent what the ideal woman should aspire to. This discussion has been around for as long as Barbie but today it came to light because of a media savvy woman named Gailia Slayen. This creative survivor of “near anorexia” displayed a sculpture she made from paper mache, chicken wire and wood to a College class in New York State. This work depicted what Barbie would look like if she was a real woman and the display was intended to start debates. Well as you can see by the picture it sure would as eating disorders are the most common chronic illness among teenaged girls. Nobody really looks like that do they? Well the toy Barbie, who is remarkably unchanged from the young, fresh-faced Wisconsin girl who first came into the world on 9 March, 1959 hasn’t changed much at all. And that’s the problem. This very complicated affliction can’t be caused by the influence of a doll on it’s own. It can be argued that boys with GI Joes don’t start killing cats in the neighbourhood or develop anger management problems. However here is a case in point. Barbie Millicent Roberts is a woman with a very controversial reputation and mostly it stems from her long legs, tiny waist, ample bosom, slender neck and flowing blonde locks. Some argue her body shape would be unobtainable and unsustainable if scaled up to life-size. They claim she would not be able to stand up because her body frame would be so unbalanced. A real life Barbie would simply fall over.
Can this be true? Her maker, Mattel, says it has never scaled her vital statistics to real-life dimensions. Of those who have – usually critics or academics – no one has come up with a definitive answer as to exactly what her measurements would be.
Serious ( not kidding readers) research on the subject has drawn certain conclusions. Academics from the University of South Australia suggest the likelihood of a woman having Barbie’s body shape is one in 100,000. So not impossible, but extremely rare. Researchers at Finland’s University Central Hospital in Helsinki say if Barbie were life size she would lack the 17 to 22% body fat required for a woman to menstruate. So again, not an unachievable figure, but certainly not a healthy one. But the vital statistics they used in their studies are not readily available. Mattel has a standard set of measurements for Barbie, but dolls can vary slightly so any self-respecting researcher would measure one themselves.Do the maths….So, one trip to the toy shop and one measuring session with “Tricky Triplets Barbie” later, these are the vital statistics I was left with:
Next, step forward our real life model, Libby, aged 27 – who is a slim, but unremarkable size 10/12. Applying Barbie’s proportions to Libby’s body yields some interesting results.
If Libby’s waist size of 28ins (71.1cm) were to remain unchanged, then applying Barbie’s proportions to her would mean Libby shoots up in height, to an Amazonian at 7ft 6ins (2.28m) tall. That’s just two inches shorter than the world’s tallest woman, Yao Defen. She would also have hips measuring 40ins (101.6cm) and a bust of 37ins (83.9cm).
But what if, instead, Libby’s height of 5ft 6ins (1.68m) was to remain unchanged. Doing the maths, Libby would have an extraordinarily tight waist of just 20ins (50.8cm), while her bust would be 27ins (68.5cm) and her hips 29ins (73.6cm). Even the famously slight Victoria Beckham reportedly only has a 23ins (58.4cm) waist. But neither are they unheard of – Brigitte Bardot was famous for her 20ins (50.8cm) waist.
“People keep repeating this suggestion that Barbie would fall over and have to crawl around if she was real size, but it’s just not the case,” says Moira Redmond, writer and Barbie fan. “I find this suggestion more misogynistic than anything Barbie is accused of standing for. It’s a nasty, sexual image.”I’ve done my own calculations and she definitely doesn’t have the dimensions of most people, but they are no means grossly abnormal. I’m sure the measurements of baby dolls aren’t accurate but no one criticises them.” But others insist the proportions are unrealistic at best and damaging at worst.
“Barbie’s body shape and proportions are among the many things that play up to this ‘thin ideal’ which is ubiquitous these days,” says Professor Janet Treasure, an expert on body size and image at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London. “The promotion of dolls with such a body shape, and other things like size zero, have wider public health implications, like an increased risk of eating disorders.” So someone agrees with Suzanne Phillips and mentions eating disorders and not just body enhancing…
But one walking, talking “doll” says there’s nothing wrong in wanting to be Barbie-like. Sarah Burge was dubbed the “real-life Barbie” by the press after having plastic surgery reportedly worth £500,000. She has run with the idea, making a lucrative career out of marketing herself as a life-size version of the doll.
“I actually agree she would probably look a bit freaky if life size but as a doll she looks fantastic,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong in using her as a role model when it comes to looks, as well as attitude to life. At the end of the day you don’t see a personality from across a room do you. “It’s empowering for women to be who they want to be and not just live with the body and face they were born with.”
And women might be justified in feeling more undermined by the Barbie phenomenon than men. Take Ken – Barbie’s long-time model consort. When researchers at the University of South Australia scaled up Mr Barbie to life-size proportions, they concluded that the chances of a man having his body shape is one in 50.That’s a lot more achievable than one in 100,000, giving weight to the argument that pressure is put on girls and women to be an unrealistic size.
But as Ken knows, a good body is no guarantee of happiness. Barbie dumped him on Valentine’s Day in 2004, after dating him for more than 43 years. Love her or hate her, she’s an independent woman.
I think, as a man that there has to be a lot more to this argument than picking on Barbie dolls. To me it’s like blaming obesity on Coke and forgetting we don’t teach Phys Ed in schools anymore, kids don’t ride bikes and gamers have replaced soccer players as the biggest pastime for kids in the world..But then what do I know..I don’t live with any young girls!