Barbie’s Body Will Never Be Realistic Because Every Girl Deserves To Feel Inadequate

Formal Wear Barbie & Ken

It’s hard to ignore Barbie in any conversation about beauty standards and body image for young girls, and it’s naive not to acknowledge the part that Barbie plays in a much larger narrative that teaches young girls they aren’t good enough. Fast Company interviewed Kim Culmone, the vice president of design for Barbie at Mattel, and she managed to display an absolute lack of awareness of anything rooted in reality.

Saying that “Barbie’s body was never designed to be realistic,” Culmone primarily blames Barbie’s unrealistic proportions on a logistical necessity–apparently Barbie has to have an impossibly small waist and large bust in order to get clothes to fit. Remarkably, I have nothing close to Barbie’s proportions, but I manage to get clothes on every day. But aside from that, Culmone says that Barbie’s body is always evolving, although changing her would be very difficult, because of “the issue of heritage.”

This is a 55-year-old brand where moms are handing clothes down to their daughters, and so keeping the integrity of that is really important. Everything may not always be able to fit every doll, but it’s important to me that the majority of it does, because that was my experience as a little girl. There’s an obligation to consistency. Unless for some reason in the future, there’s a real reason to change the body–because of either a design imperative or functional imperative–heritage is important to us.

So when Culmone says there is as of yet no “objective to change the proportion of Barbie,” she apparently didn’t understand the studies reflecting unrealistic, thin dolls like Barbie’s poor impact on the lives of her customers (Fast Company points to this one from the University of Sussex). In a fascinating display of cognitive dissonance, Culmone references those studies about the influencers of poor self esteem on young girls, but blames it on parents and peers, leaving out Barbie’s significant role. You see, it’s just that the rest of the world doesn’t understand children the way Culmone does. As she explains:

You have to remember that girls’ perceptions are so different than grown ups’ perceptions about what real is and what real isn’t, and what the influences are…Girls view the world completely differently than grown-ups do. They don’t come at it with the same angles and baggage and all that stuff that we do.

This is completely illogical and patently wrong. What world does Culmone live in where childhood experiences don’t contribute to adult baggage? Does Culmone think we all just woke up one day feeling shitty about ourselves and found Barbie to be a handy scapegoat?

Barbie certainly gets a lot of grief when it comes to young girls, when of course we know that Barbie is one voice in thousands that send young girls sexist, degrading messages about their own bodies and worth. To blame poor body image on Barbie alone is reductive and ignorant, and exonerates the multitudes of industries that benefit off of women feeling poorly about themselves. But Culmone is right–Barbie is a heritage thing, passed down from mother to daughter. And unless Mattel is willing to address the very real implications of their dolls, women will continue to pass down negative sense of self worth from one generation to another. Hating yourself is inherited, too.

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    • Kaitlin Reilly

      I think Barbie’s proportions are ridiculous and are a bad role model for young girls. However, I have to say that I do see the point about the clothes fitting the dolls. If Barbie is completely redesigned (as she probably should have been years and years ago) the clothes the company makes for the doll will have to be scrapped, too.
      If we can’t have a realistic looking Barbie in terms of size, maybe Mattel can adjust other things about the Barbie doll to make her appear at least somewhat relatable to young girls. Would love for them to adjust the “stories” that come with Barbie as well. (Computer programmer Barbie, maybe?)

      • Elena

        (Computer programmer Barbie, maybe?)

        Already done, by Internet vote.

      • Kaitlin Reilly

        Awesome! Guess I’m late to the party.

    • Remember Me, or else!

      I always thought we should have more life like Barbies
      like “15 and Knocked Up Barbie”
      or “Abused by Uncle Barbie”
      don’t forget everyone’s favorite “Cutter Barbie” with 10 different scissors and knives accessories

    • Elizabeth Alexander

      I actually think Culmone has a very valid point. Children do see the world differently than adults, and i think a big part of the whole `barbie negative self esteem` thing is that as children we`re told we are supposed to feel bad by these images. Barbie may contribute to lowered body satisfaction, but it is the reinforcement that we are supposed to feel bad that I believe contributes more to negative self esteem than anything. So instead of blaming a piece of plastic why don`t we focus on better preparing children to not take cues from toys.

    • ridiculousness

      Gimme a break! The reality is just the way it is supposed to be. Not everyone is going to be able to be an astronaut or a super model, but it sure is fun pretending you can be. I don’t think playing with an obese, oily skinned doll is going to straighten out society’s issues.

    • thermio

      My wife actually grew up hearing from her mother and grandmother that barbies were out of proportion and innacurate representations of women. So when she turned 14 and developed F cup size breasts on her 28 inch waist (as well as a myriad of associated back problems) she thought she though she was abnormal . While I believe barbie’s features were exaggerated even more than an F cup it is important to remember that not everyone fits into simple categories. Should barbie reflect the average woman more? Yes, but in the end you’re not winning any friends by suggesting that the women who may resemble this body type are not normal.

      • thermio

        Apologies and correction: 26 inch waist.

      • Gangle

        Sounds more like you are bragging about your big-titted, slim waisted wife. As a tall, skinny woman with big boobs and thigh-gap, I still consider barbies proportions as highly unrealistic. If barbie was a real person she would be wheel-chair bound and her head would not be supported by her neck. That is not normal.

      • Kelly

        Barbie is an inaccurate representation of a woman. It’s not just that she has large breasts. If your wife is actually built like Barbie then she’s confined to a chair and has severe medical problems and looks freakish enough that people would gasp and stare at her in public.

        I’m not anti Barbie at all and I’ve got big boobs and a small waist too but no one has Barbie’s body type. Anyone who did would most definitely not be normal.

    • Kelly

      I’ve always liked that Barbie’s proportions are unrealistic. No human being can ever look like her, and if they could, their lives would be worse for it because they wouldn’t even be able to stand or walk.

      Nobody has a Barbie body. The doll doesn’t pick a real life body type and shove it in little girls’ faces screaming, “THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD LOOK LIKE!” Her figure is complete make believe.

      I’ve never understood how picking a real body type that exists in real life and making dolls in that image would be better for little girls. I mean, it might be nice for girls who are built the same way as the “perfect and real” doll but it sucks for everybody else.

      • Kat

        Wow, I never thought about it that way (not being sarcastic!). That’s a really good point.

    • xzanthius

      Barbie is about as realistic as He-Man. I’m not sure that my relationship with He-man was that destructive. The problem is not Barbie or He-Man individually but rather the lack of variety in general.

    • Spaz Modius

      Is U.S. President Barbie the minimum age of 35? Where’s her birth certificate?

    • MERKIN

      I literally never once looked at Barbie and thought I was supposed to look like her. She’s a plastic doll. And I looked nothing like her, anyway.

      However…I do constantly compare myself (and always have) to other women.