Barbie Doll And Body Image
Body image concerns disproportionately affect women and girls over man in many Western societies. Although there are numerous societal factors contributing to this disparity, a number of individuals have proposed that Barbie dolls may be contributing to issues many young girls and women face in regards to their body image. The Barbie doll has underwent many changes through her 50 year history including: her hair, facial features, clothing, and careers yet her figure has remained stable throughout time ( Rice, Prichars, Tiggemann, & Slater, 2016). The Barbie doll has received a lot of criticisms regarding her unrealistic body proportions, and is often noted as a main tool promoting internalisation of the thin ideal in young girls. This paper aims in exploring the findings of three different studies, each focusing the possible impacts of the Barbie Doll on young girls body image and satisfaction, highlighting its findings and implications.
The Barbie doll has been the subject of many debates regarding its negative impact on young girls body image and body satisfaction. A two-part study by Jellinek, Myers, and Keller (2016) aimed in testing the impact of the exposure to dolls of different body types and wardrobes on girls’ body dissatisfaction. Body dissatisfaction is a disturbance of body image, in which negative feelings are experienced toward one’s own weight and figure (Jellinek, Myers, & Keller, 2016). The researchers recruited 112 girls, ages 6 to 8, to participate in their study. To begin participants were to complete Body Esteem Scale, which contained 20 statements pertaining to body esteem and evaluation. The girls’ body dissatisfactions were then measured employing Child Figure Rating scale. The young participants were presented with images of seven different figures, ranging from extremely thin to extremely overweight, and asked to identify which figure resembled their own body-type, and then identify which figure they wish to resemble. The same procedure was repeated after doll exposure to examine whether a change in body dissatisfaction would be observed. The participants were randomly assigned to three minute of play with either a thin-figure Barbie doll or a full-figured doll –Tracy; the dolls were either dressed in a swimsuit or a modest item. It was reported that participants who played with Barbie dolls had lower body self-esteem than those who played with Tracy. Those who played with Tracy also showed a decrease body size discrepancy compared with girls who played with Barbie dolls. The results of their study mirror the findings of many other scholars, it was concluded from the study that playing with unrealistically thin dolls negatively impacts the young girls body image.
Building on the findings of large number of studies examining Barbie dolls and body image Anschutz and Engels (2010) aimed in testing the effects of playing with thin dolls on body image and food intake. A total of 117 young girls, enrolled in grades one to four, participated in the study. Unlike the study conducted by Jellinek, Myers, and Keller (2016), which used two different dolls, Barbie and Tracy doll, this study included three dolls, each with a different figure. The girls were assigned to either play with a Barbie doll, Emme doll, which was heavier and taller, or Tyler doll, which was slim like the Barbie doll but tall like the Emme doll. The researchers employed the same method, Children Figure Rating Scale, in measuring the actual-ideal body size discrepancy as Jellinek, Myers, and Keller (2016), before and after play time. To test the possible impact on participants’ food intake the girls were provided with various snacks after playtime and their intake was recorded. Contrary to the findings of Jellinek, Myers, and Keller (2016), the researchers did not find that exposure to a Barbie doll negatively affected body esteem or actual-ideal body size discrepancy. The researchers did however find an effect on girls’ eating behaviour. It was found that participants ate less food when they played with Barbie dolls than when they played with the average sized doll. The researchers concluded that although young girls display behaviour related to appearance enhancement in relation to thin ideal cues, they do not express dissatisfaction with their body in accordance yet.
Rice, Prichard, Tiggemann, and Slater (2016) similar the two previously discussed studies, aimed in addressing whether exposure to Barbie has an impact on young girls’ thin-ideal internalisation and body image. A total of 160 primary female school students in introductory years of school took part in the study. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the four conditions: three doll conditions and one non-doll control. Unlike the previously discussed studies who had the girls play with the dolls themselves, participants in this study were assigned to one of the four conditions; print observation, physical observation, physical engagement, and non-Barbie doll physical engagement. In each condition participants either observed or acted out a particular given scene, such as ‘shopping for a friend’s birthday present’. Unlike the other studies, measures of body esteem and actual-ideal body size discrepancy were only obtained post-manipulation, but the researchers did employ the same measuring scales. Their finding very closely mirrored the findings of Anschutz and Engels, 2010, study. It was concluded that exposure to Barbie may leed to higher thin-ideal internalisation, but it showed little to no impact on body esteem or body satisfaction. The researchers noted that interaction with Barbie dolls might encourage young girls to adopt a preference for a thin body, but have no immediate effect on body image.
Collectively these three studies illustrate that there is a link between Barbie doll exposure and thin-ideal internalisation. There are more than 100 Barbie dolls sold every minute (Rice et al, 2016), which is why it is important that we as a society are aware of the possible impacts Barbie dolls can have on young girls body image. It is important to acknowledge that although the Barbie doll is meant to primarily serve as a toy for children it also serves as an artefact of female representation. We often give children toys designed to give them the opportunity to practice for roles they are to take as adults. It is through toys that children learn about the world and their place in it. The unrealistic thin nature of the Barbie dolls figure conveys the message that being thin is the ideal in order to be successful and happy. As it was noted by Anschutz and Engels (2010) playing with a Barbie doll showed to negatively effect the girls’ eating behaviour, this can ultimately lead to eating disorders among young women. There have been many documented instances where adult females go through various surgical procedures to obtain a Barbie figure; this clearly illustrates the impact the doll can have on ones body image. The Barbie doll may have been around for many years but it is important that we highlight its impact on girls and their body image.
- Anschutz, D., & Engels, R. (2010). The effect of playing with thin dolls on body image and food intake in young girls. Sex Roles, 63 (9-10), 621-630. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199- 010-9871-6
- Jellinek, R. D., Myers, T., & Keller, K. L. (2016). The impact of doll style of dress and familiarity on body dissatisfaction in 6- to 8-year-old girls. Body Image, 18, 78-85. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.05.003
- Rice, K., Prichard, I., Tiggeemann, M., & Slater, A. (2016). Exposure to Barbie: Effects on thin- ideal internalisation, body esteem, and body dissatisfaction among young girls. Body Image, 19, 142-149. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.09.005