Body Acceptance Might Be Killing the Barbie Doll


Sales of Barbie dolls are down 12% as parents ditch Barbie for more realistic, “full-figured” dolls—possibly due to the modern movement toward not hating yourself. Success! The only problem is, the most popular alternatives to Barbie are either extremely expensive gingham extortion rackets (American Girls) or literally exactly the same as Barbie only dead (Monster High). So what’s a parent to do? Eh, I mean, it appears that almost anything—even bizarrely proportioned goth corpses—is better for little girls’ body image than Barbie.

Here’s TIME:

Parents have reason to be anxious. In a 2006 study at the University of Sussex, researchers compared the effects of exposing five-to-eight-year-old girls to images of Barbie versus images of Emme — a full-figured doll that has been endorsed by the American Dietetic Association to help promote positive body image. Those girls exposed to Barbie reported lower body esteem and a greater desire to be thin. The study concluded, “Early exposure to dolls epitomizing an unrealistically thin body ideal may damage girls’ body image, which would contribute to an increased risk of disordered eating and weight cycling.”

Oh, WAY TO GO, BARBIE. Thanks a lot. It’s hard for me to all-out condemn my girl Babs, seeing as I was a fierce devotee for most of my younger years. Me and Barbie and Miko and Derek (HUBBA HUBBA) and the pink Corvette had a pretty cool time, I tell you what. But, that said, I am also totally fucked up in the brainz about my body and how it “should” look and how I am a failure as a woman because I don’t have permanently arched plastic feet and a thigh gap bigger than my waist circumference. If I hadn’t grown up with Barbie, would I feel differently? Would I have reached self-acceptance sooner? If the above study is any indication, there’s a good chance I could’ve. But, whatever, Barbie and I did have fun. (And to be fair, it’s not like I look like an American Girl doll either.)

Anyway, while a 12% drop is notable and encouraging, it doesn’t really change the fact that Barbie’s place as an aspirational icon is pretty firmly cemented in our national psyche:

In the end, Mattel’s continuing production of unrealistically shaped dolls may not matter. Despite declining sales, Barbie is still the most widely sold doll in the world. As Hendrix says, “The Barbie formula has always worked. Every three-year-old girl in the world wants a Barbie doll.” While the new trend may be towards “flawed” dolls, it may be premature to predict the end of Barbie, or the rapid expansion of doll waistlines.

Body positivity has made huge strides, but I’d wager that this is a problem to be fixed over generations, not years. In the meantime, anyone want to start a fat doll company with me and mop up that sweet 12% Barbie money?

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