This one will range from different answers to more critical beliefs. Indeed, the idea of establishing an external notion of beauty and success that Barbie dolls and the line of accessories that go along with it help to foster a difficult reality for most girls. The proportions that Barbie features enhance the image of body that reflects thin and petite beauty is what defines beautiful. In its most original conception, Barbie was White, blond haired, and blue eyed. This also helped to feed a more subconscious view of beauty as being specific to a race or ethnicity. Another effect that Barbie might have would be the accessories and other components that feed into Barbie's lifestyle. She lives in a nice house, has a convertible, has the latest in appliances. While all of this is great, it does foster the belief that success is tied into a vision of success that is upper class and driven by economic prosperity. "Barbie working in a factory" is not an action figure in development right now. At the same time, another one of her "accessories" is her mate, Ken. He turns out to be a male version of Barbie- Tall, dark, and handsome, as well as very well cut in a strong manner. When "dark" is suggested, it is a nice tan vision, as opposed to anything else. Another effect this might cause is the belief that relationships have to be between a man and a woman. In the final analysis, the doll itself is not really responsible for all of this, but the cumulative effect of these ideas could have implications for how girls see themselves and the world around them.
There is an satiric poem by Marge Piercy entitled "Barbie Doll" which is very telling. In this poem a girl is "born as usual,"
...Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:/You have a great big nose and fat legs.
She was healthy, tested intelligent,/possessed strong arms and back,/abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity./She went to and fro apologizing./Everyyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.
She was advised to play coy,/exhorted to come on hearty,/exercise, diet, smikle and wheedle./Her good nature wore out/like a fan belt./So she cut off her nose and her legs/and offered them up.
In the casket displayed on satin she lay/with the undertaker's cosmetics painted on,/a turned-up putty nose,/dressed in a pink and white nightie./Doesn't she look pretty? everyone said./Consummation at last./To every woman a happy ending.
The dramatic irony of this poem points to the effects of girls' having models of unattainable perfection placed before them. Studies have reported that if Barbie were a real person she could not possibly have the dimensions that the Barbie doll has. In Marge Piercy's poem the element of perfection represented by the Barbie doll is unattainable for the girl. Criticized for her physical flaws, the girl senses her "inferiority" and finally kills herself because she is "ugly." With irony Piercy writes of the girl, now in the coffin, "Consummation at last," for someone has commented, "Isn't she pretty?" The superficiality of our society sustains to the last. Through her poem, Piercy shows the dangers of false standards and the consequences of their application. If Barbie dolls are set before girls as the ideal girl, then such false standards can be perpetuated.
Then--thank goodness!--there are many independent girls who merely enjoy the doll, using her to pretend; or even to smear with dirt and cut off her hair as the previous poster has so delightfully mentioned.
It is reprehensible in the first place that our society has put such a burden on women to be the prettier and more physically appealing gender. That we support this imbalance and its attendant pressure on women with dolls that teach young girls this unfair bias is even more egregious.
That said, however, I would like to add two things: 1) That which we resist persists. By this I mean, if we deny young girls, and I mean really young children, like three or four years old, access to these silly and potentially detrimental dolls, they will only want them and value them more. And 2) One cannot generalize about the effect these dolls may have on any number of girls or any specific girl, especialy if we educate these girls about what Barbie dolls, and the like, represent. Just like you can give a child a white, star-studded unicorn and tell her that they don't really exist, you can tell a child the same thing about unreal Barbies.
Then, of course, there are little girls like this five-year-old I happen to know: she regularly takes off her Barbies' clothes, cuts off most of their hair, and then buries them for a day or so in the dirt of her mother's potted house plants.
So, one can never really tell what effect such dolls have on the psyches of little girls to whom those less-than-innocent playthings may have been entrusted.
It has been said that based on the dimensions of a Barbie doll, if she were a real person, she would either be dead or would fall over from her disproportionate body! I think Barbie gives young girls a negative view on what is considered beautiful in our society. She is tall, extremely thin, has a big chest, and is blonde haired and blue eyed. She doesn't take into consideration the different cultures in our world, nor does she factor in things such as sexual orientation, since she has a boyfriend, Ken. She is the unattainable, and if a little girl looks nothing like her Barbie doll, she may consider herself to be ugly or unworthy of another person's affection. That's not a great way to start out your life.
We cannot know the answer to this for sure because there is no real way to measure those effects. And there is no way to know whether some effect was caused by playing with Barbies or not. Here are my opinions, though:
- I believe that Barbie dolls give young girls and young women a really bad idea as to what they are supposed to look like in order to be attractive. Barbie is too skinny and her chest is too big for a realistic woman. So Barbie makes young girls want this unattainable shape. This can lead to eating disorders, among other things.
- I also think Barbie encourages girls to think that it is important to have all kinds of stuff. Every Barbie comes with all these accessories -- she's very materialistic. So it seems to me that playing with Barbie would encourage girls to think that they should have all kinds of material stuff in order to be happy.