If Barbie Were Real

If Barbie Were Real, I think she'd say "please stop playing with me for your ideological games."

If Barbie were real, she'd be two years older than me, and pretty tired of being bashed by feminists for decades. That prodigious bosom would be far lower and her outrageously long legs quite possibly the recipients of new knees. Being a woman of a certain age, she'd be pretty philosophical about being admired and used and loved and hated and imbued with so much power over others.

Including the power to cause people to lose their minds: "

An anorexia survivor builds a life-size Barbie as a body image reality check"

Back when Barbie and I were kids, we did a lot of dress-up and dreamed of being princesses and nurses and hot librarians. Then we grew up and got jobs and kids and therapy. We got clued in to the politics of our bodies, and although we couldn't change our bodies we decided to accept them. Even when we are six feet tall and have ginormous breasts and serious foot arch issues. We realized that no matter how people admire us it won't really make them crazy. No matter how much envy we have for others, life goes on. It doesn't define us. If mental illness was a matter of the world being so awful to us, holding unreasonable standards for us, dangling the unreachable before us - well then it would be even more common and less treatable. But it's not. Anorexia is a mental illness, not: too many envious thoughts, seeing too many pretty people or thin people or rich people or ones with better clothes. Barbie doesn't hold out an unrealistic ideal. She's a doll. No one became catatonic from Pet Rocks, or had snout implants because of Miss Piggy.

Personal Barbie facts:

  • One of my dads knew the real Barbie - the one whose parents owned Mattel. They had a date. He says she was nice. Her brother's name is Ken.
  • I really wanted a Barbie doll as a kid and finally my mom agreed. I was so excited. So we got there and I reached for that lovely one in the long white dress... and my mother balked. She wanted to know why I wasn't getting the black one. We argued racial and identity issues in the aisle. But the black one was Julia the nurse and the nurse's oufit was NOT the glamour I was going for at all! We got the Julia one. I didn't play with her. I wasn't denying my people. I just wanted a pretty dress and those impossible heels.
  • As a good feminist mom, I bought my daughter trucks and books and Tinkertoys, and was very vocal about a "no Barbie" rule for gifts for my little girl's second birthday. Naturally, she got three Barbies that day anyway - all three were black. I can report that by the age of six all my daughter's Barbies (and they multiplied in a rainbow of skin colors, I might add) were re-named the "differently able" dolls - they lost limbs in their close quarters with the trucks and Tinkertoys.
I know I'm not the only one hanging my head over people thinking that aspiring to Barbie proportions, or that negative body image itself, causes eating disorders. But I do know that I'm going up the down staircase on it. So, I've decided to enjoy the exercise.


  1. my d had at least 20 barbies...all the princesses, and their counterpart princes. But she also then went on to groovy girls, bratz dolls, and even American Girls. So which one was she "trying to be like" when AN hit? NONE. It is BS to think that any of these toys caused or contributed to her illness. It was simply a time when she was hitting puberty and swimming competitively and decided to "eat healthy" so had too little nourishment to support her activity and growth. No doll did this to my d.

  2. "No one became catatonic from Pet Rocks. . ."


    I love it!


  3. I think so much time and energy is being wasted on this whole Barbie debate... energy better used to fight insurance companies - do more research - better inform doctors...

    also, just because it genuinely irks me - if you enlarge any item and constrain the proportions, the item at the end of the enlargement will look identical to the original except in one aspect (and no not bosoms ;) ) - it will be larger... Based on the mathematics I did and measurements I took, every single one of her measurements is off... considerably off - more than 8 inches (aka her bosoms)

    I think that contributes to why I'm irritated that this is getting so much energy that could be allocated to other areas...

  4. zzzzzz on the whole Barbie thing! Good point Laura, she's a doll!

  5. Aww, I deprived my daughters of the fun of Barbies because I was so 'aware' of eating disorders. I knew EDs were caused by unrealistic expectations placed upon young girls by Barbie and the media. We had realistically-shaped Dolls of the World instead (hey, they really were cute--but try to find a realistically-shaped bridal gown or mermaid costume...!).

    Then my Barbie-untainted, media-fairly-untainted daughter got sick with anorexia, which makes no sense at all because I so carefully protected her from these triggers...sigh.

    Girls, you are turning 17 and 20 this week...here are your Barbies, with my apologies. Happy birthdays!

  6. My young son liked Barbie,liked her undressed as she looked better that way! LOL, it is a doll.
    Colleen, I have an Ann Coulter one if you want it.

  7. I had absolutely zero interest in dolls as a child. In fact, I was mortified whenever I received a doll for a present, or won a doll as a prize. I couldn't 'get' why so many other girls enjoyed playing with dolls. I liked trains, lego, mechano and stuffed animals (or cuddly toys, as we call them in the UK).

    And so I never owned a doll, and I was one of the most 'ungirly' girls on the planet. I had long hair in pigtails, but I disliked pretty dresses. I didn't have any gender identity issues; I just wasn't a 'girly-girl'. I preferred the practical.

    And I went on to develop anorexia nervosa at age 12 yrs, that lasted for many years.

    I don't wish to negate others' personal experiences, so I will simply write that neither Barbie, nor the desire for a 'perfect' body had anything to do with the development or maintenance of my AN. The presence of Barbie (or 21st Century surgically enhanced celebrity lookalikes) is not mandatory for the development of EDs!

  8. Cathy,
    Thank you for noting that that Barbie didn't cause/influence YOUR eating disorder. I have been following this debate closely and I am so confused as to why people seem to think their experience is the only experience. Many of those who are angry with this girl and her life-size Barbie are citing their own stories, without realizing that is exactly what she is doing as well. For some people, Barbie (and more likely, the cultural trends she is a reflection of) is a trigger. For some, this has little to do with. Neither experience is right or wrong, and neither experience should be ignored.


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