This holiday season, many little girls will open their gifts to find the standard Barbie doll with unrealistic proportions of what an American woman looks like. However, a new version of Barbie could well be on its way with several artists hoping to accurately portray the average-sized female body. But some of these new versions are stirruing up controversy. A Facebook group Plus Size Modeling recently shared a post of an image of a plus-size Barbie asking viewers: “Should toy companies start making plus sized Barbie dolls?”
While the photo has received over 35,000 “likes” on Facebook, there are a substantial number of comments that have addressed the issue of the doll’s extreme size. MaryBeth Gafford, a Facebook user, posted: “The triple chin is too much. Most overweight people (me included) only have a double chin no matter what size they are. This Barbie is inaccurate.” Gafford and others are unhappy with the doll because it portrays plus-size women as inherently unhealthy, when many are actually of a healthy weight, but just naturally curvy.
The plus-size Barbie image produced by Worth1000.com — not Barbie’s manufacturer Mattel — derives from an illustration contest on the website where artists compete every day in creative competitions. The plus-size Barbie won a 2011 contest called "Feeding Time 9," created by the artist Bakalia.
Statistics show that 60 percent of American women self-identify as part of the "plus-size" market, although there is some debate about the term itself. In a national survey conducted by Sonsi.com, a retailer from the same parent company as Lane Bryant, 1,000 plus-size women sizes 14 and up, were polled and asked: "When describing your size, what term do you prefer?" Twenty-eight percent of these women preferred the term “curvy,” while 25 percent of respondents preferred “plus-size,” and the other 25 percent preferred “full-figured.” This group of women were also asked who they drew inspiration from when it came to their shopping preferences. Top picks were friends and family at 30 percent, followed by plus-size icons at 21 percent, The Huffington Post reports.
Barbie has a long history of encouraging body image issues. In the 1960s, Mattel released "Slumber Party Barbie," which came with combs, hair rollers, and a sleeping bag, according to Rehabs.com. The Barbie set included a scale permanently stuck at 110 lbs. and a small book titled How To Lose Weight. In the book, the only words that were written in all-capital exhortation was "DON'T EAT!" The release of Barbie dolls like these helps perpetuate highly unrealistic images of female bodies that can have a powerful influence on how little girls see their own lives. Increased exposure to these dolls may lead to unhealthy body image self-perception, which is reflected in the increasing rate of eating disorders of young girls.
In the 1990s, the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders calculated on average how much an average healthy woman’s body would have to change for her to have the equivalent proportions of a Barbie doll. Overall, women would have to grow two feet taller, extend their neck length by 3.2 inches, gain 5 inches in chest size, and lose 6 inches in waist circumference. These dimensions are considered impossible to achieve but are still emulated by young girls. In 2013, an infographic made its way around the internet which helped visualize the data found in the study, titled "Ken and Barbie at life size."
Critics of the plus-size Barbie commented that they wish there was an average Barbie who is not “skinny, not obese” but has “normal proportions.” There are some designers and public health advocates agree. Artist Nickolay Lamm of MyDeals.com recently created a 3D model of the “average” Barbie doll based on the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) measurements of an average 19-year-old woman. Lamm told The Huffington Post, “So, if there's even a small chance of Barbie in its present form negatively influencing girls, and if Barbie looks good as an average sized woman in America, what's stopping Mattel from making one?”
The impact of unrealistic proportionally-sized dolls on self-body image and eating habits of young girls is significant. The National Institute of Mental Health says 20 million women have suffered from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their lives, with concerns about weight or shape expressed by girls as young as 6. To learn more about eating disorders, click here.