Imaginative play with unrealistic dolls is bad for girls. Imaginative play with unrealistic dolls is …. what for boys? Boys? Ha ha! Since when do they matter?

3 Jul

Poor, poor Barbie. She just cannot catch a break.  She’s just too….. Barbie.  Her hair is too long, her eyes are too big, her waist is too waspish, her legs are too slim, her thighs are too small, her breasts are too perky (and too damn big!), her ass is too high and her weird feet, all curved and ready for stilettos.

barbie

Bad Barbie!  Wrong body, wrong choice, you traitor!

Personally, I was never a fan of Barbie, since I found her uncomfortable to sleep with.  I preferred rag dolls, who are nice and soft and cozy and cuddly.  Raggedy Anne was my particular favorite:

anne

Look at her head!  Jesus that’s a big head. And those eyes!  That hair!  And shoes dyed right on the fabric of her feet!  Ridiculous.  And what is up with that apron?  Well, now we know why I spend so much time wearing an apron and bustling in my kitchen.  It’s Raggedy Anne’s fault!  Her perfect curly locks that are impossible to muss didn’t rub off on me, but hey, we can’t have everything!

holly

Here is Holly Hobby.  Another one of my faves.  And she is totally in proportion to a real, natural, average human, isn’t she?  Her head is wider than her hips! That bonnet.  It kills me. I had a sun bonnet when I was a little girl.  Robin’s egg blue. I loved it.  I guess I have Holly to thank for my skin? No sun damage!  Bonnets are a girl’s best friend.

sunbonnett

Of course, when I played with my rag dolls, I was always the Mommy. They were my babies, and that is the big difference between dolls and Barbie dolls:  dolls inspire nurturing play.  Barbie dolls inspire aspirational play. You aren’t Barbie’s mommy – you are either Barbie or one of her friends.

friends

And that’s where the criticism comes in:  Barbie dolls are bad for girls because they present unrealistic, unattainable body images that girls are expected to internalize.  An artist named Eddi Aguirre took off all of Barbie’s makeup to show just what a tarted up little whore she is, with fairly grotesque results.

no makeup

http://boingboing.net/2013/04/15/barbie-without-makeup.html

Aguirre’s critique fell a little short, since women can, and DO use make-up to dramatically alter their looks.  Almost all women enhance their natural beauty with cosmetics, but some women go full spackle, and the effect is rather astonishing.  Here are some before and after pics of adult film stars, using make-up to go from Brunhilde to Barbie.

porn 3

porn 2

porn 1

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/03/porn-stars-without-make-up_n_3379731.html

Does playing with Barbies influence women in their decision about how much and what kind of make-up to wear?  That is the theory, and the source of anxiety.  We’ll come back to this in a bit.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/04/11/artist-creates-barbie-doll_n_3060626.html

Another artist named Nikolay Lam plays with Barbies a lot, and he alters them to show just how different Barbie is from the average American woman. Here is Barbie compared to the average 19 year old American woman.  Barbie is short, squat and has a big ass.  She is still wearing a crap-ton of make-up.

fat barbie

Barbie’s measurements:

Height: 5’9

Weight: 110 lbs

Bust: 39 inches

Waist: 18 inches

Hips: 33 inches

Shoe size: 3

BMI: 16.24

Average 19 year old American woman:

Height: 5’4

Weight: 140 lbs

Bust: 32 inches

Waist: 31 inches

Hips: 33  inches

Shoe size: 7

BMI: 24.0

real-life-barbie-21-665x385

Obviously, Barbie is waaaaaaay out of proportion to the average 19 year old woman, but there are two important things to consider:  1) the average 19 year old is just on the verge of being clinically overweight and 2) who cares if Barbie is out of proportion?

Rather than assume Barbie is some dastardly plot by the capitalist patriarchy to make little girls feel really shitty about themselves, let’s start with the assumption that Barbie looks the way she does because that is what SELLS. Barbie appeals to little girls almost universally.  Why is that?

smarties

If you go down to page 9 on this report, you will see that children are not born with a natural sense of proportion.  They can tell that one pile of Smarties is bigger than another, but it takes a while until they realize which pile is TWICE as big.  Proportions must be learned.  Five year olds are not great at detecting proportions.  By the time they are in the second grade, most of them have it figured out.

http://www.gse.uci.edu/docs/Matthews_precis_and_background.pdf

So there is one thing:  small children are not great at sensing proportions.

Now, let’s consider what proportions humans find particularly appealing.

baby

frog

kitten

SQUEE!  Whether it’s a human being, a baby frog or a kitten, we are hypnotically drawn towards creatures that have huge heads, giant eyes, chubby cheeks, short limbs, and dramatically different proportions from what they will become.

http://www.livescience.com/19108-baby-love-human-brain.html

When those two things are combined, isn’t it obvious why little girls love Barbie?  She has proportions they can easily detect and she appeals to the instincts that make us love babies with her huge eyes enhanced with make-up to look even bigger and her giant, baby-proportioned head.

I’ll just wait here for my Nobel Prize in Neuroscience.  Jeez, I am racking up the Nobels, aren’t’ I?

There is NOTHING nefarious or wicked about Barbie and she does NOT encourage poor body image in little girls because little girls can’t detect that there is anything amiss with Barbie’s body!  She’s just a pretty woman who can do and be just about anything!

doctor

dentist

astronaut

And clever little vixens can easily circumvent Barbie’s corporate limitations with their imaginations.  Barbie really can do ANYTHING!  There is nothing wrong with encouraging little children to set their imaginations free and believe that unicorns are real and mermaids are your friend. Life will kick in soon enough.

construction

Grown women who believe they can do and be anything are a different story.  Stuck in perpetual toddlerhood, they fail to see that wishing for a unicorn that farts rainbows will not make it so.  A different story altogether.

Let’s turn our attention to boys now.  Where is all the teeth-gnashing and despair about the unrealistic body images little boys are confronted with when they play with boy Barbies, also known as “action figures”?

batman

Batman has a body that represents normal human males? Really?

Batman measurements:

Height:  7 ft

Waist:  30 inches

Chest: 57 inches

Biceps: 27 inches

7 foot tall human

(already extraordinary, but it can happen):

Height: 7 ft

Waist: 30 inches

Chest: 37 inches

Biceps: 12 inches

http://www.johnriviello.com/bodyimage/dolls.html

gi

GI Joe? Oh yeah, he’s pretty realistic. Hey, did you hear the one about the little girl who asks Santa for a Barbie and GI Joe?  Santa says, “but little girl, Barbie comes with Ken.”  “Nope,” says the little girl, “she hangs out with Ken, but she only comes with GI Joe.”

giggles

For the same reason that little girls like Barbie and her weird proportions, little boys like Batman and GI Joe.  We won’t even get into Stretch Armstrong.  If playing with dolls affects body perceptions so much, what are we to make of Stretch’s abilities?

???????????????????????

Poor little boys, crushed by the fact they can’t slamdunk with their 8 foot arms.  That would make basketball a whole new sport, wouldn’t it?

Again, GI Joe is an aspirational toy:  little boys don’t imagine they are GI Joe’s Daddy –they imagine they are one of his comrades or GI Joe himself.  And funny, they don’t seem to be crippled with body anxiety on account of playing with their 57 inch chest buddies.

True story:  I decided to be a really progressive parent and encourage my son’s nurturing side by buying him his very own dolly. LittleDude named him Steve.

photo

The most frequent game involved placing Steve as high up in a bush or the lilac trees as LittleDude could reach and then congratulating Steve on how well he could climb.  “Good job, Buddy!  Look at you! Look how high you are!” LittleDude would encourage Steve to be brave and jump! He would then shake the tree violently until Steve was dislodged and attempt to catch him midair.

boy doll

Sadly, Steve suffered some fairly serious head injuries and spent a lot of time bandaged up in a shoebox, and we are not optimistic about his future prospects.  So much for progressive parenting.  LittleDude still has Steve but he mostly just throws him in the air and catches him.  LittleDude’s eventual children better have strong stomachs.

Children engage in imaginative play in a way a lot of adults seem to have forgotten.  They don’t really notice ridiculous proportions and those sparkling moments when they believe everything and anything is possible are actually one of the most wonderful things about children.

superman

Little boy:  Mommy, when I grow up I want to be Superman!

What kind of killjoy shatters a fantasy like that?  Life will teach him soon enough that there is no Superman and he can only grow up to be who he is.  We don’t encourage little boys to weep tears of self-pity and huddle in a corner when they realize that 26 inch biceps are not really possible.  We encourage our sons to take the best that Superman has to offer and remember their childhood dreams fondly.

barbie girl

Little girl:  Mommy, when I grow up I want to be Barbie!

Why can’t we do the same for Barbie?

Because our current cultural climate doesn’t encourage women to let go of their childhood fantasies and face reality.  Little girls are not supposed to look back on their childhood dreams and cherish the best of them.  They are supposed to continue on through life in a state of perpetual denial and immaturity.

unicorn

Barbie can be anything?  So can you, honey!

No, you can’t. Be realistic.

Barbie is tall and pretty and blonde and perfectly made-up?  You can be too, honey!

No you can’t, unless of course you ARE tall, blonde and pretty. Oh, and white.  Don’t forget white.

Barbie is a caricature.  Be a real person.

Barbie has everything and shoes to match?  So can you, honey!

No you can’t.  Material wealth isn’t even that important anyways.  Be practical.

Screaming about the lack of realism in Barbie is really a metaphor for screaming about how unrealistically most women approach life and living and most of all, their own abilities and talents.  Barbie’s LACK of realism is exactly what makes her so compelling.  She cannot be what she appears to be.  The lack of reality in Barbie’s body and proportions asks us to confront our own flaws and delusions. What things do we THINK we can do, but really CAN’T?  Barbie’s dishonesty is so unambiguous that it’s hard for us to look at her and not see our own dishonesty.

anakin

This is pretty philosophical, but not without precedent.  Confronting flawed humans in art and literature and music and poetry and theatre is all about connecting us to ourselves as flawed, and thinking about ways in which we might be better.

http://psychologyinfilm.weebly.com/the-flawed-hero.html

Average Barbie takes a girl’s imagination and tells her that she is already perfect.  Average is perfect.  Average is enough.  You are enough, as you are.  No need to work or improve or strive.  Everyone else can just suck it if they don’t like who you are.

You’re faultless.  And your toys should be, too.

I know I’m sounding like a broken record here, but the idea that women are perfect the way they are denies that women are capable of rational assessment of their own flaws, denies that women are capable of accurate self-assessment, denies that women can confront imperfect images and practice introspection, denies that women have the capacity for critical, intelligent thought.

And that is just garbage.  Bring me my GI Joes and my Barbies and every other magical, impossible artifact of my childhood. They promised the world, and delivered the truth.  And the truth, as they say, is what sets you free.

Don’t destroy the enchantments of childhood.  Keep your hands off Barbie.  Unless you plan on swapping that lab coat for a ballgown!

ballgown

Barbie can be anything!  I can’t.  You can’t. No one can.

And honestly, who wants to be everything?  That seems like a lot of work.

Lots of love,

JB

41 Responses to “Imaginative play with unrealistic dolls is bad for girls. Imaginative play with unrealistic dolls is …. what for boys? Boys? Ha ha! Since when do they matter?”

  1. zykos July 3, 2013 at 17:35 #

    I vividly remember my psychological devastation when, as a teenager, I realized I could never become a giant sentient robot able to transform itself into a car. I’ve had body image issues ever since.

    Like

  2. Leap of a Beta July 3, 2013 at 17:36 #

    Which is exactly why I’m now a mad scientist.

    Like

  3. earl July 3, 2013 at 18:10 #

    You mean children don’t have good depth perception…always see the biggest thing first…can’t see the forest from the tree?

    Another way the evil powers that be are ruining childhood and by extension women.

    Like

  4. LostSailor July 3, 2013 at 19:27 #

    I am Batman…

    Like

  5. Radical Suburbanite July 3, 2013 at 20:13 #

    I dressed up as Barbie for Halloween once. I was 23 and it was awesome.

    I loved Barbie as a kid– mostly for her clothes. But who knew she only wore a size 3 shoe? My size 9s look like clodhoppers in comparison. How will I ever survive the foot envy I am now destined to suffer?

    If I had body issues (and who doesn’t) I think my mom’s boob job had more to do with that than my Barbie dolls.

    Like

  6. Goober July 3, 2013 at 20:17 #

    I grew up playing with he-man action figures. I never realized until you posted this how miserable being exposed to that unobtainable body image has made me.

    I think this is true for two reasons.

    1. I never realized how miserable it made me because it didn’t. At all
    2. As a kid I understood that it was a frigging doll.

    Like

  7. Goober July 3, 2013 at 20:21 #

    So do feminists all go through their entire life assuming that all women are complete retards who can’t tell the difference between a doll and reality? Or just some?

    I can’t figire out how this “women as fragile idiots with zero common sense and no agency” meme that they cling to is anything other than jaw-droppingly offensive to women. Why don’t women gang up and slap them all silly for being so insulting?

    Like

  8. judgybitch July 3, 2013 at 20:40 #

    Good question! It’s what I want to know, too. How does any woman embrace a philosophy that turns them into irrational simpletons incapable of distinguishing basic reality?

    It’s insulting!

    Like

  9. Spaniard July 3, 2013 at 20:55 #

    When I was child I loved the elastic man. Was fab!
    Now that I am a 43 year old child I play with Barbies. Human Barbies = expensive hookers. They are great!!!!

    Like

  10. feeriker July 3, 2013 at 21:00 #

    I’ve always wondered if little girls abuse their dolls the way little boys abuse their action figures. When I was a kid, G.I. Joe took a hell of a thrashing. To the scar on his face that the manufacturers created, my brother and I added some more over other parts of his plastic body and he lost a couple of limbs to things other than combat (G.I. Joe became VA Joe). Can some “expert” explain how come we didn’t grow up to be serial killers who abuse our wives and kids?

    Like

  11. Radical Suburbanite July 3, 2013 at 21:07 #

    I was horrible with mine. They didn’t survive too long before I chopped off their hair– my mom cut off my hair and I think I wanted the dolls to look as bad as I felt.

    Like

  12. Emcee July 3, 2013 at 21:07 #

    “Because our current cultural climate doesn’t encourage women to let go of their childhood fantasies and face reality. Little girls are not supposed to look back on their childhood dreams and cherish the best of them. They are supposed to continue on through life in a state of perpetual denial and immaturity.”

    I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot. I don’t know if it’s Feminism or just the general cowardization (i.e. society blaming) of western culture, but I’ve becoming more worried about raising a child within what society seems to be changing into. Especially if I ever have a girl. I know that I’ll be fighting, every step of the way, the culture-vs-reality bullshit that will be spewed at my hypothetical kids to “protect” them.

    Not that my recent disillusionment with Feminism is going to attract many ladies, anyway. Ha.

    Like

  13. judgybitch July 3, 2013 at 21:09 #

    My son beats the crap out of his toy soldiers but I’ve never seen him deliberately hurt Steve. Steve gets hurt, but it’s accidental.

    My daughters don’t abuse their Barbies at all.

    Weird. I never beat up my dollies either.

    The Lego characters on the other hand get brutalized by all my children. Dementors and Assassin Droids torn limb from limb and routinely decapitated.

    Guess it depends on what story you’re playing and whether there are bad guys?

    Like

  14. judgybitch July 3, 2013 at 21:11 #

    Ugh. My mother did that to me, too.

    Cut off my waist length braids as punishment for something.

    The memory still brings tears to my eyes. How cruel. I can’t imagine doing that to my beautiful daughter.

    Like

  15. Aki Widad July 3, 2013 at 22:03 #

    A guy goes into a shop and asks how much it is for a Barbie doll for his daughter. ‘That depends sir’ says the shop assistant. ‘Which barbie would you like? There is hairdresser Barbie, $39.99, Business Barbie $39.99, At home Barbie $39.99 or we’ve a got a new one in the range…divorced Barbie, she’s $399.99.’
    ‘$399.99’ splutters the man, ‘How come Divorced Barbie is so much more than the others?’ ‘That’s simple’ says the shop assistant, ‘she also comes with Ken’s boat, Ken’s house and Ken’s car.’

    Not original I know but this one’s from a Dad named Ken

    Like

  16. Emcee July 3, 2013 at 22:12 #

    “Guess it depends on what story you’re playing and whether there are bad guys?”

    Not so sure about that. Way back when, my friends and I used to threw our action figures up into a tree in the front yard, only to see how many pieces they would come back down in. Good times.

    Like

  17. Liz July 3, 2013 at 22:43 #

    My mom did too! Right before I went into sixth grade she gave me a boy’s haircut with sideburns and called it a ‘pixie’ style. It wasn’t. I looked exactly like a boy right in time for middle school. It was really traumatizing.
    Think how much we learn from our parents. It’s like having the crappiest boss ever with a series of daily lessons on how NOT to do things. But it’s effective because I’ll never do it that way.

    Like

  18. Radical Suburbanite July 3, 2013 at 23:35 #

    It was traumatizing. I can remember being in tears when people would ask me “are you a boy or a girl?” Weird that we all have that in common. (My mom tried to claim the “pixie” thing too– but let me tell you, I looked nothing like Dorothy Hamill.)

    My daughter has hair down to her waist (it’s gorgeous) and I’ve told her that all decisions regarding her hair are hers alone.

    Like

  19. Mark Trueblood July 4, 2013 at 00:13 #

    I think it’s really good for parents to be cautious about the toys their children play with, and the TV shows they watch. But I certainly don’t think little girls are the only ones who get screwy expectations foisted on them by culture.

    Feminism and traditionalism both depend on boys being socialized to follow traditional male gender roles. That’s why the former doesn’t seem to mind so much when boys get screwy expectations foisted on them.

    Like

  20. Scott July 4, 2013 at 03:23 #

    Bravo, I couldn’t have said it better myself. The other thing I’ve always thought about Barbie and other dolls and action figures is that when you shrink things down in size, you have to adjust the proportions in order to get any contrast. Breasts, muscles, etc have to be bigger or they won’t be noticeable.

    Also, I’m surprised no one has broached the topic of boys being traumatized by male dolls and action figures having no genetalia. Now THAT will cause body image issues.

    Like

  21. feeriker July 4, 2013 at 06:32 #

    WOW. It would appear that you all had some real sadists for mothers. It does appear, though, that you learned from their flaws and such learning shaped your personalities accordingly. Thank God for big favors!

    Like

  22. feeriker July 4, 2013 at 06:37 #

    Also, I’m surprised no one has broached the topic of boys being traumatized by male dolls and action figures having no genetalia. Now THAT will cause body image issues.

    Boys being boys, that’s actually one of the first things we noticed when we took GI Joe (among others) out of the packing box and changed his uniforms, but I don’t recall any of us giving it a whole lot of thought. As for the question of “why doesn’t Joe have a pecker?”, when it finally came up for discussion, our generation just figured that he’d lost it after stepping on a landmine somewhere in ‘Nam.

    Like

  23. Master Beta July 4, 2013 at 09:01 #

    I’m currently in talks with a surgeon about replacing my right arm with a fusion cannon.

    Like

  24. princesspixiepointless July 4, 2013 at 11:26 #

    I was so desperate for a mutant hand until my mid twenties. I’d day dream of bizarre dynamite accidents. 2 decades later, no robot hand…

    Like

  25. princesspixiepointless July 4, 2013 at 11:29 #

    Setting barbies on fire is art, not abuse by the way. (needed to put my 2 cents)

    Like

  26. Spaniard July 4, 2013 at 12:28 #

    True. Why the elastic man did not have elastic penis?

    Like

  27. M3 July 4, 2013 at 14:36 #

    WHURRRARRRTHEDRUUUGHHSSSSS?

    Like

  28. M3 July 4, 2013 at 14:43 #

    What. You think the money, grants and supports for the professional victims club will just walk in through the front door for these trollops?

    They’ve had 40 years to practice the sell.

    I don’t know what’s scarier. The fact that Feminists are able to claim that women are irrational simpletons incapable of distinguishing basic reality in general public without causing mass insult.. or that fact that there are many women who are actually proving the point?

    Feminism. We fight to empower women, by telling them they’re stupid little children. Yay feminism.

    Like

  29. Nicky July 4, 2013 at 15:05 #

    Ha! I had the opposite. I was a total tom-boy, and wanted my mum to cut my hair, and she refused. So I got the scissors and did it myself. She had to tidy it up a LOT, and it was way shorter than my brother’s hair for ages.

    I was not particularly nurturing with my Barbies as a kid. I remember hanging one out of the window on a piece of string to knock on the window and distract the babysitter while my brother snuck into the kitchen to grab us a midnight feast. When I pulled her back up, her legs had fallen off. Ahh, happy memories!

    Like

  30. Erudite Knight July 4, 2013 at 16:03 #

    I laughed pretty hard at the babier stuff.

    In seriousness though I have used this EXACT point with feminists, and they deny it matters for guys because ‘society doesnt present you these images you have to live up to’
    Whatever bitch

    Like

  31. LostSailor July 4, 2013 at 16:21 #

    GI Joes and fireworks. ‘Nuff said…

    Like

  32. Radical Suburbanite July 4, 2013 at 18:10 #

    If my daughter wanted to cut off her hair I’d wince a little but let her do what she wanted.

    Your story remind me of myself with my Barbies. One of my favorites was actually a friend’s idea. We’d string up dental floss around the house and hook the doll’s hands around the floss and fling them across like they were on a zip line. My friend had a bunch of GI Joes (she was also quite the tomboy) so we started with those and brought my Barbies into the act later. Good times.

    Like

  33. feeriker July 4, 2013 at 19:37 #

    I haven’t paid any attention to the girls’ toy market in years (not since my daughter was young), but I’m surprised that a “Butch Barbie” hasn’t appeared on the market, just for girls who are “confused” about their sexuality.

    OK, maybe I shouldn’t be giving Mattel any ideas…

    Like

  34. judgybitch July 4, 2013 at 19:46 #

    I think Butch Barbie goes by the name “Ken”.

    😛

    Like

  35. Erudite Knight July 4, 2013 at 23:41 #

    Oh only a matter of time…

    Like

  36. Nicky July 5, 2013 at 05:46 #

    Last year, my son had gorgeous long hair (like his dad). He choose to get it cut off shortly before he turned 6 – partially due to teasing from his peers. THAT was a horrid situation. If it had ONLY been the teasing, I’d’ve been even more upset – but he also hated having it brushed. It had to be his decision, though.

    Like

  37. Spaniard July 5, 2013 at 09:37 #

    You are wrong: Ken is much more femenine than Barbie.

    Like

  38. dinictus July 6, 2013 at 04:54 #

    Aspiring to the impossible leads to accomplishing greatness. Aspiring to the normal leads to accomplishing nothing out of the ordinary.

    Like

  39. Sarah Daniels August 29, 2013 at 02:04 #

    This is a stunt for publicity. Nothing more. You get a lot of your sources from the Daily Fail. That my friend is what one calls gutter press. Gutter press relies on strong reactions like this one. If someone published an article about how men do not compare to he-man, men won’t make nearly as much fuss and vice verse. The article would not generate such a strong reaction. I personally liked Barbie when I was a child and I always knew that she was a doll.

    Like

  40. judgybitch August 29, 2013 at 02:17 #

    Millions of people get their sources from the gutter press. I’m down in the gutter with them, helping sort through the trash.

    🙂

    Like

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  1. Lightning Round – 2013/06/10 | Free Northerner - July 10, 2013

    […] JB on Barbie. […]

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