Barbie is a worldwide phenomenon that is known for her blonde hair and stick-thin body. For decades, Barbie’s body has been a source of controversy, and many people have been concerned that Barbie dolls promote an unrealistic body image to impressionable young girls. Mattel has finally responded to these concerns by creating Barbie dolls with three new shapes: tall, petite, and curvy. These new body shapes are just one of the many changes to the iconic doll, but the curvy doll is getting the most attention from both media and normal children.
The new Barbie dolls have a wide range of skin tones, hair colors, and hair textures. Gone are the days of bland Barbie dolls who look identical other than being blonde or brunette. The new dolls have the option of bright blue hair, a shaved undercut, or thick curls, and they all have feet which can wear flats or heels, banishing the often criticized former feet of Barbie, which were permanently arched for sky high heels. All of these changes have been met with approval, but the most noticeable change is the body type options. The tall and petite dolls look like a traditional Barbie, but one is shorter and one is taller. The curvy Barbie doll has noticeably thicker hips, a slightly curved stomach, and rounder arms and legs.
Market research to see how children react to the new doll shapes has pointed out just how important a curvy Barbie doll is. When six year olds were left alone in a room, the immediately focused on the curvy doll. One six year old played with the curvy doll by saying that the curvy Barbie is “a fat person, fat, fat, fat.” Other little girls undressed the doll and giggled at her different shape. However, when adults were in the room, the children did not mock the doll, instead, they just mentioned that she was “a little chubbier” than the other dolls.
Children’s reactions to the different Barbie doll shapes shows that even in a body positive era that tries not to fat shame people, children are still susceptible to the message that thin is always better and fat is something to laugh about. When an adult was around, the children were careful to be sensitive, but when they were among their peers, the doll was a source of some teasing. Hopefully, the curvy Barbie dolls, which actually are not that large and just look like a normal person, can help to send the message that extreme thinness is not necessary to children.
Celebrity culture is always endorsing thinness, and people are bombarded with advertisements for weight loss from an early age. Sadly, even though the curvy Barbie doll looks normal and healthy, young children still see her as fat. The lack of curvier role models may have a damaging affect on children’s self esteem, and it promotes an unrealistic standard. It may not make a huge change, but the curvy Barbie dolls are definitely a step in the right direction.