Influence of Dolls on Body image: Is giving a Girl a Barbie the Same as Telling her to be Thin?

By Sarah A.

Body image refers to thoughts and feelings that an individual has towards his or her body and physical appearance. From a young age, media is influencing girls on the ideal female body image. On TV, in movies, and in stores girls are being bombarded with images of thin, beautiful women. Although men objectification is also common, it does not seem to have the same effect on young men as it does young women.

Over the years models, TV actresses, and Miss America contestants have been getting thinner and the pressure to meet these ideals are increasing tremendously. In the 1940s/1950s the ideal female body was a busty, voluptuous full figure, with an hourglass shape. As the 60s and 70s rolled around this ideal body image was changed, and “thin was in”. As years went on, the ideal body image for women began to be more and more unrealistic and unachievable. Young girls are constantly reminded of the importance of being thin and beautiful with toys such as Barbies and Brats Dolls.

Much like the ideal body image of women has changed over the years, the size of Barbies has also. In the 1990s, the average Barbie had a larger bust and waist circumference (although still unrealistic) than that of the Barbies sold today. If Barbie represented a real life women she would roughly be 5’9’’ and 110lbs. Growing up I loved playing with my Barbies. I wanted to look my Barbie, have the same clothes as my Barbie, and even drive the same pink convertible as my Barbie. With proper guidance from my parents I learned that I didn’t need to BE Barbie. As a 5’9’’ girl, I couldn’t imagine aspiring to be 110lbs, but with the increase in media influence, young girls may grow up with the hope of achieving an unrealistic body image. These pressures could eventually lead to eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Is this the body type that we are encouraging young girls to aspire to? Children are like sponges, they learn what they see, hear, and are surrounded with.

A women from Tasmania took it upon herself to re-create old Brats dolls into modern, natural, realistic young girls. She called it a make-under. By removing the drastic makeup that is painted on the dolls faces, and drawing on more natural eyes and lips, Sonia was able to create a doll that better represented children today. The feedback that she received from children was great, they loved them. Kids are not born with the desire to be thin and beautiful, they are exposed to it.

A study done on a local elementary school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, presented young boys and girls with a Barbie sold in stores and a realistically proportioned doll. The students related the realistically proportioned doll to themselves, friends, and family. The students were asked to describe what kind of job each doll would have. The Barbie was suggested to be a cook, model, fashion-star and make-up artist whereas Lammily (the realistic doll) was suggested to be a teacher, a pilot, a computer person ect. Children were found to prefer Lammily over the Barbie because they thought she better represented them. If we offered children an alternative to the outrageously unrealistic, body idealistic Barbies, according to studies, they would be just as happy (if not happier) to play with them.

Children need role models and people to look up to as they go through life, and giving them toys that add additional unrealistic pressures is surely not helping them. It is our responsibility to shape the children of the future and supplying them with toys such as Barbies, whose make up is perfect and body is symmetrical, is only giving them unachievable, unhealthy goals to work towards. We should be encouraging girls to love their bodies. We should be teaching them about health not unrealistic beauty standards. In the end HEALTH=BEAUTY.

Do you think replacing the thin, unrealistic Barbies in stores with more natural dolls, such as Lammily, will help encourage young children to aspire to a healthy body image?

Tree-change-doll video :



Pittsburgh Study:


Scholarly Articles

Hargreaves, D. A., & Tiggemann, M. (January 01, 2006). ‘Body image is for girls’: a qualitative study of boys’ body image. Journal of Health Psychology, 11, 4, 567-76.

Kuther, T. L., & McDonald, E. (2004). Early adolescents’ experiences with, and views of, Barbie. Adolescence, 39(153), 39-51

Food for thought




9 responses

  1. Great Blog Post Sarah,
    I had no idea that Barbies in the 1990s had larger bust and waist circumference. Growing up playing with my barbies, I was upset that I could never live up to the expectations of looking that thin and beautiful, I honestly feel like this made me self conscious of who I actually was which is ridiculous now that I am older and I understand that this is not the norm. An unhealthy and unrealistic body image is that exact opposite of what we should be teaching our children. I feel like this could be one of the main causes aside from media that causes eating disorders among young woman. I really love the quote where you say ” Children are like sponges, they learn what they see, hear and and surrounded with”. This is very true the idealization that young girls have to grow up with such as perfect body image, perfect skin, perfect hair is absolutely ridiculous and sad. Barbie dolls should be role models of who they en spire to be, and not some unrealistic objection to perfection.
    I believe that if we replace the thin unrealistic barbies in stores with a more realistic natural doll it could indeed encourage young children to aspire to a healthy body image. However producers are making so much money on these barbies that I do not feel like they will stop, unless us as consumers could produce a movement where no one keeps buying these barbies then that is when the changes would be made. After reading your blog I found a youtube video that you might be interested in, it talks about the barbie Lamilly that you were writing about and its very interesting, if I have kids I would defiantly want to buy my child this barbie over the slim barbies.

    Desiray Wells

  2. Excellent post Sarah!

    Our society and culture pressures women and girls to pursue a thin ‘perfect’ body, devaluing any women who stray outside of this ideology. From a very young age this becomes a major issue for innocent and naïve youngsters; just as you said children are like sponges. Young girls are quite literally dying to be like Barbie. In fact, the National Association of Anorexia Nervose and Associated Disorders reveals that four out of five 10-year-olds say they are afraid of being fat. Findings also disclosed that 42% of girls in grade 1 to 3 wish they were thinner and 50% of girls aged 9 and 10 expressed that they felt better about themselves when dieting.

    With the anatomically impossible Barbie, the sexualization of women in the media, and the hegemonic discourses embedded in society young girls are socialized to hate their bodies from the day they are born. Unfortunately, it really isn’t all that surprising that women would prefer death over “fatness”. If you click HERE you will be brought to a link that illustrates the truly unrealistic proportions of Barbie.

    I am happy to hear that the children related more closely to the Barbie who was proportioned like a real human. I think it is important that both young girls and young boys are exposed to toys that promote healthy youth development. Moreover, girls should not be constrained to play only with dolls, just as boys should not be constrained to trucks. I think that it is extremely important to provide parents and youth development professionals with the knowledge and tools necessary to encourage and support young people to have a healthy body image.

    Ps- check out this VIDEO dedicated to young boys and girls who struggle with body image.


    • ze&;0netterlaquob &#823i;Le film dont vous parlez avec la partie de tennis, ce ne serait pas “Blow up” ?… »C’est Blow up,dans lequel débute au ciné une gamine qui va se faire un nom, Jane Birking.

  3. Interesting blog post Sarah.

    Alike you, play in many instances incorporated Barbies. Thinking back to my early childhood, I remember dressing them in different outfits and styling their hair at the age of five! I don’t remember aspiring to dress or be like my Barbie, I believe my parents had an influential role in relation to my gender and toy association by introducing me to stereotypically “masculine” and “feminine” toys throughout my childhood.
    From reading your blog; my observation of society and its forever changing trends, it is evident that over time Barbies in particular, have been redesigned to demonstrate the recent portrayal of women i.e. displaying the idealized, stylized (thin and tall), “perfect” woman. As stated, the 1940s/50s ideal female body was curvatious, with more emphasis on the bigger the better (hair styles etc). I agree Barbies symbolize a petite and “made up” figure. This is not encouraging to young boys and girls who play with these toys as it creates need to maintain and uphold ones appearance. For example, looking “done up” or being unable to leave the house without putting ones “face on”.

    Along with pressures to maintain a “thin” body image; often resulting to self confidence issues and eating disorders, there is also evidence that the Barbie doll can influence and limit career choices. Oregon State University, are one to undertake experiments exploring the influence of fashion dolls and the career choices of young individuals.
    Barbie has developed over the years displaying numerous career outfits for example, a nurse, flight attendant and vet however, the traditional clothes for Barbie are often pink, glitzy and stylish (attractive to young girls eyes). The role Barbie plays on a young person’s life can be very influential. Barbies more traditional outfits can aspire younger individuals to choose career paths of a model or fashion designer. The likelihood of every young girl who owns a Barbie and choosing this type of career paths is very limiting. As mentioned, the Lammily doll presented different results for its owner, who described jobs for the doll such as a teacher and pilot.

    I found an article regarding the battle over whether Barbie is bad for girls self image. The VP of design, blames moms not the dolls crazy proportions for girls body issues. The designer goes on to say Barbie’s body was never designed to be realistic but designed for girls to easily dress and undress. Yes Barbies pointy feet might be easier to slip into her jeans however, I don’t suppose the size of her breasts were to help Barbies clothes to go on easily.

    Overall, I do think these fashion dolls teach young girls and boys to value beauty over brains. I now understand that Barbie culture wasn’t for me since I repeatedly pulled my Barbies heads off from the “too perfect” doll.

    I found this fantastic video to encourage girls to “disrupt the pink aisle”, where a little girl takes a hammer to the portrayal of girls and women in the media:

  4. This is a great post, Sarah!

    You’ve done a great job of employing ‘The Sociological Imagination’ as C. Wright Mills describes it; seeing trends and norms in society and critically engaging with those messages to see how they apply to yourself (and others).

    I agree that media plays a part in proliferating toxic ideals about standards of beauty for women–and men as well as the literature increasingly suggests. A lot of socialization happens during childhood, and from many different institutions… The Family, the schools, the media, and the church just to name a few. Barbies (and toys in general) represent a item that is carried from institution to institution throughout the day. When such an item carries crystallized messages about toxic ideals of beauty, it means that exposure to this messages remains constant and without a break. It’s no small wonder that Barbie became a site for much debate about messages media sends to young women!

    Thank you again for sharing.
    All the best,

  5. Sarah,

    I really enjoyed this post! I thought it was well written and interesting. I did some google searching and saw some images of these new dolls and thought they were great. One thing about these dolls that I find especially interesting is that they have bendable joints and are able to wear casual shoes. This might allow young girls to have their dolls play sports and be active. This may really change the way girls perceive women and themselves.

    To answer your question, I do believe that overtime these dolls really could help girls with achieving a more healthy body image. I think it will take a lot more for girls to feel comfortable with their bodies, especially with such strong influences coming from celebrities and the media. Having these dolls showcase healthy and active lifestyles for young girls might be something that could help young girls to understand what is really a realistic expectation of themselves. Pairing these dolls with education and communication might be the best way to make a change.

    Molly M.

  6. Great work Sarah!

    This post really stood out to me because I LOVED Barbie as a child. She symbolized everything I wanted to be, happy, beautiful, popular and,though it was never officially stated, but because of the mansions, beach houses and convertibles, probably very wealthy. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized she was an unrealistic standard of beauty with her tiny waist, large breasts and huge eyes. No one could actually look like that naturally, although women have tried through plastic surgery with horrifying results. Lately though, I have been noticing the same big eyes, tiny waists on cartoon characters, and I know that animators are facing criticism for this look they are creating for their characters. Do you think that maybe the animators are making the resemblance so that children are reminded of their Barbies and become interested in watching? Or possibly, since Barbie is considered beautiful by so many people, they created their characters with similar characteristics to Barbies so that people would think their characters were beautiful as well?

    Just for fun, here’s a link to some animations that have been edited from the original to have realistic proportions to demonstrate how exaggerated their features are!

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