Barbie: Stepping Out in a Whole New Body

Throughout her tenure as one of America’s most iconic dolls, Barbie has exhibited great versatility in her hairstyles, outfits, and professions. However, in one important area she has not deviated one millimeter from the traditional Barbie script:  her body.

From top to bottom, Barbie’s chest has remained shockingly large, her waist extremely small, her legs impossibly long, while at the end of those stilt-like limbs, she has a pair of tiny feet that literally translate into a shoe size of three, a fact that remains as improbable as the rest of her. And, speaking of bottoms, does Barbie even have one?

But the winds of change are currently blowing through Barbie’s perfect hair.  Effective this month, Barbie is shedding her impossible body mold and easing into the real world. She will now be available in what the company is calling “plus”-sized editions as well as tall and petite. In reality, the “plus” sized doll is actually average sized; this, in and of itself, is more than a little troubling. Diversity-minded Mattel will also offer seven skin tones, 22 eye colors and 24 hairstyles.

Of course, the adage that you cannot please all the people all the time is alive and well. While many are lauding Mattel’s move, certain professionals in the medical as well as behavioral health fields have expressed concern that this type of doll will only serve to reinforce the obesity epidemic in our country.

Sadly, not unlike the American public, most medical professionals are obsessed with diets and body mass index (BMI). They seem oblivious to the obvious fact that diets don’t work—never have, never will. They are equally blind to the fact that BMI in and of itself is a poor indicator of health. And they are most blind to the myth that skinny equals all that is good, attractive, sexy and healthy in the world, a concept that is forever perpetuated by diets and BMI.

In our culture, people assign all sorts of unfounded meanings to what an individual’s body looks like; unfortunately, it is rarely positive. Most often, a person of average size or above average size is stigmatized and viewed as being “less than,” grotesque, lazy, weak, or bad.

I think the new diverse Barbie is one of the few examples of something that has the potential to powerfully impact the brokenness and sickness in the eyes of our society — the eyes that are used everyday to negatively view, criticize, and hate our own bodies  as well as those of others.

If the new doll helps people accept themselves, and possibly even celebrate themselves, exactly as they are, we could experience change. We might see less disordered eating, misery, and the many mental and medical health problems that stem from people, particularly women, trying to be something they are not.

The new Barbie may have the capacity to help shape and heal the eyes of America. If it allows us to see beauty in a range of sizes, shapes and colors or helps even one girl or woman accept and appreciate her own body, then she is a winner.