Plain and simple, Barbie is an American tradition.
Since its creation in 1959, the Barbie doll has exploded in popularity, going from a staple toy for girls to a persona brought to life on the silver screen. And as buzz continues to build around the Barbie movie release this summer, the conversation around Barbie and body image remains an important one.
Barbie, despite being an iconic and beloved doll, has faced criticism for being sexualized in certain contexts and perpetuating unrealistic and hyper-sexualized ideals of femininity. According to a recent survey, most women feel Barbie dolls portray unrealistic body images, and nearly 1 in 2 have compared the way they look to a Barbie doll. Despite this, Barbie has clear staying power, with more than 88% of women reporting having a Barbie doll growing up.
But the fact that a plastic toy has significantly influenced how many feel about their bodies is unsettling. A majority of women feel the doll can lead to body image issues. The main problem: toys can send a powerful message to kids at a young age. According to the survey, a quarter of women started struggling with negative body image issues when they were just 10 years old or younger. With diet culture pervasive throughout American culture, it’s no wonder 79% report dealing with negative body image, and 80% of women have called themselves fat.
While not everything is sunshine and roses, things have gotten better since Barbie was born in the 50’s. Barbie has embarked on a transformation, becoming more inclusive and embodying various career paths, including space exploration, sports, and the medical field. According to the survey, 3 in 5 say they feel new Barbies are better at reflecting all body types than older versions.
Some countries have adopted a gender neutrality law that encourages toymakers to create gender-neutral products, games, and toys that are not marketed specifically to boys or girls. The U.S. hasn’t done this, and nearly half of women surveyed wish the country would. Statistics show more than 3 in 5 think toys can encourage sexism.
Movies and TV shows also have a big influence on personal beauty standards. Nearly 3 in 4 women feel shows and movies negatively impact societal beauty standards, and more than half shared that it has negatively impacted their own body image.
Despite this, nearly 2 in 5 women plan to head to the theater to see the new Barbie movie. While only 1 in 6 think the movie will change their perspective about the somewhat-controversial doll, Gen Zers are going into it with more of an open mind. 35% of Gen Z women think the movie will give them a more positive perspective of Barbie.
The fact remains Barbie is a staple for many children and has so far withstood the test of time. While not perfect, Barbie’s journey shows she can change, challenging societal norms and promoting inclusivity. By embracing change, Barbie is reshaping her own narrative but still has some work to do when it comes to body image. This will continue to be important as we foster a generation of confident and resilient young people.