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What Message Is Barbie Sending Our Kids?

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We turn on the TV, flip through a magazine or check out an ad on our favorite website ... images of skinny female bodies are everywhere. We can hope our kids will not get sucked in by the hype of "thin is in," but, unfortunately, they do.

Girl looking at a barbie doll

Most models in these images are thinner than 98% of U.S. girls and women. The average height and weight for a model is 5'10" and 110 lbs, while the average woman is actually 5'4" and 145 lbs.

One perfect example of these unrealistic expectations is the world's favorite doll. Researchers generated a computer model of a woman with Barbie's proportions. They found that her back would be too weak to support the weight of her upper body, and her body would be too narrow to contain more than half a liver and a few centimeters of bowel. A real woman built this way would walk on all fours, suffer from chronic diarrhea and eventually die from malnutrition.

What kind of message does this send? The majority of us could NEVER attain the bodies in these images, but the number of girls and women who try is astounding and the health penalty of this quest is devastating. Family pressure, peer pressure, the media or a combination of all three appear to be major sources of negative self image.

The diet and weight loss industry is a multi-billion dollar business and they're not just targeting adults. Do our children have the unrealistic idea that being thin is the only way to popularity, happiness and success?

It is our responsibility as parents to be sure that the messages we communicate to our children are healthy. Here are suggestions from momlogic friend and registered dietitian Diane Henderiks:

1. Promote a healthy relationship with food: Discuss nutrition and why your body needs natural, whole foods in order to function properly. We need to eat to live, not live to eat.

2. Don't talk negatively about your own body: Hopefully you are comfortable enough in your own skin, but if you are not, keep it to yourself! Your child will feed off of any negative discussions and comments.

3. Exercise: Be a role model for regular physical activity! Many studies have shown that the key to a lifelong healthy weight is regular physical activity. Get physically active with your kids whenever possible.

4. Don't use the word "diet": If you skip meals, buy prepackaged "diet" food, eat only "fat free" or "lite" foods, avoid "carbs," your kids will pick up on it and think that is how they should eat and think about food.

5. Keep healthy foods on hand at all times: Get your kids involved in grocery shopping and food decision making.

next: Dalmatian Makes a Special Delivery
15 comments so far | Post a comment now
cheers January 10, 2009, 10:13 AM

Well if your kid is ugly then they can get the princess shrek doll.

Common Sense January 10, 2009, 11:10 AM

Its just a doll, yes it has unrealistic proportions its a characatcher, shes exaggerated like a cartoon, no little girl is gunna want to buy a budgie little fat doll, no matter how accurate it is.

Besides wanting to be thin isnt a bad thing, thin doesnt have to mean anorexic. With obesity being the huge problem that it is in our country, i cant believe youre wasting time with girls who just wanna be thin. Its a good thing. Its much healthier than being overweight like so many other kids are these days. Just as long as they dont take it to the extreme.

So what do you propose? Make a fat Barbie doll, so little girls will try get fat like Barbie?

Anonymous January 10, 2009, 11:29 AM

How shallow can you be, shrek doll poster? Cheers to you being as intellectually deep as teaspoon.

Finally people write about impacts of social and mental constructs instead of some half-witted attention-hungry media person whose only talent is being poor at acting/ singing/ acting about singing/ singing about nothing.

Barbie, what TV personalities and magazines “tell” women is attractive as well as these depressing commercials about larger people subjecting themselves to entering a TV contest to see who can lose the most weight [although it may be a good idea health-wise] is disturbing at best. There are unfair, and at times unreachable, standards of beauty and weight placed on women that worsen every year. After numerous relationships with women that are physically, emotionally and visually beautiful who all say “I’m fat” about themselves or say “well i wish this part of my body was different”. Barbie most certainly plays a role to mentally control what girls think about beauty, so it’s like getting them early on to place these standards onto themselves. Which is really unfair.

I’m supremely thankful that I was born a 5ft 10 man because that’s ALOT of pressure to have about something that you can’t change unless the media says you can.

What a waste of time your comment was Shek-doll person, cheers to your insensitivity.

:D January 10, 2009, 1:25 PM

lol I found the shrek comment quite humorous. :) Barbie has been around for ages now. Who cares? So we want to be like Barbie? Then when we get older we realize that it isn’t entirely possible. Whoop de do.

a non-mom January 10, 2009, 1:46 PM

oh please! when are we going to stop blaming little pieces of plastic for the troubles that women have with body image? There are far more damaging images coming from the celebrity machine—which often boast about plastic surgery, waxing, crazy diets and the like—than from dolls.

And if we’re going to pick on dolls, what about Bratz? What about baby dolls that teach little girls that their only roles are to be mothers and housewives and to eschew having careers? There are so many ways you can use pretzel logic to justify a negative message in any child’s toy, so why focus on just one?

Seriously—get over the Barbie doll thing. The things that impact a girl the most are her Mother’s negative self-image, and perhaps the photoshopped images celebrities that infuse our culture.

Christy January 10, 2009, 2:15 PM

How much of my life has been spent worrying that I’m not the same shape as a doll or the models in the magazines or the actresses on TV and movies? None.

I also think the Shrek princess comment was funny. Anonymous from 11:29 doesn’t recognize sarcasm.

for real January 10, 2009, 3:13 PM

Um, ok, whats next? Little boys wanting to be ninja turtles or transformers? Please, these are toys and if you aspire to look like your doll then you have other issues to begin with. Oh, and Anonymous, whats wrong about being a 5’10 man? Nothing.

Lori January 10, 2009, 3:34 PM

I’m actually more worried about girl bands like the Pussycat Dolls, who were on Leno the other night. I forced myself to watch, as I like to keep up on pop culture. What was disturbing about the performance was the fact that the song was actually pretty good - it was about something that so many of us can relate to (dumping a man and feeling bad about it) though they were dressed like prostitutes. What’s up with that?

Anonymous January 10, 2009, 10:13 PM

Does anyone else find it ironic that this story appears on the site at the same as one indicating that obesity rates are at an all time high in the US, including childhood obesity? Apparently, the “thin is in” message is not sinking in at all.

curvymom January 12, 2009, 12:45 AM

We’re not worried about the thin messages Barbie is sending in our house. Her legs are usually ripped off shortly after Christmas, and within about a week she has a new, Sid Vicious-type hair style also, thanks to a new curiousity about what happens when kids use scissors while mom is in the bathroom.
So, after Christmas, being thin is the least of the Barbie worries in my household! :)

Carol C. March 9, 2009, 2:21 AM

Does anyone remember a number of years ago a woman who was tired of Barbie’s unrealistic proportions who created a slightly fuller version by a different name? Her company failed, but I would be interested in finding one of her dolls if I only knew the name to look for. I wish someone with some real capital would create a realistic dress up doll and give Barbie a run for her money!

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Fatima Masood March 11, 2010, 8:19 AM

hey babrbie,my sister is always saying that i am barbie.han so i wanna to be barbie too!
so who will be barbie my sister or i?u tell me.please~

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