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What Barbie and Dora Teach Our Daughters

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Erik Fisher, Ph.D.: For those of you who have young children and are in the know, two momentous events occurred in the world of kids and fashion recently: Barbie turned 50, and Dora got a makeover. So what's the connection? The impact that these two icons have had on children and the way we view ourselves. 

barbie and dora

Barbie has evolved from a little girl's object of play and imagination into an uber-creation by Mattel. If kids and the company could imagine it, Mattel would provide it. Whether it was demand or supply that led to the development of Barbie's accessories is up for debate, but either way, the outcome is that there is an endless supply of Barbie products that can be purchased. Almost every child (and many adults) in America have likely been impacted by Barbie and her gang. She has been the ideal housewife, astronaut, adventurer and CEO. She has been an example of what women can become in mind and in body. It is the image of "body" that has been detrimental.

So what about Dora? Most recently, Dora underwent the cartoon equivalent of an "Extreme Makeover." She is supposed to be older now, and dresses (and looks) the part of a more mature Material-Girl version of her original cross-cultural granola-girl self. Whatever happened to the girl-next-door Dora, and why did they have to change her? The most obvious possible motivation? The desire to grow the product with the market. As little girls get older, they outgrow Dora. To them, she is for little kids, not for young girls who are becoming tweens. From a business perspective, what better way to continue a demand for a product than to evolve it as your market evolves -- and also to keep the original, so that emerging markets will be attracted to the original product? From a marketing perspective, this is genius (especially if it succeeds). Dora, after all, is a multi-million dollar industry, just as Barbie is.

Is there a problem with this evolution? No. What people are taking issue with is the manner in which Nick Jr. evolved Dora. Did the company stay consistent with how the character would have evolved, left to her own devices? This can be debated, as many children go through unpredictable changes in likes, dislikes, tastes and fashion as they become young adults. I think we all remember the girl in school who left sixth grade a tomboy and came to the first day of seventh grade a young woman. The issue is that Dora is the creation of adults. She is not a little girl going through her own changes. This is an orchestrated evolution.

Here are some stats to consider: About 42 percent of first-, second- and third-grade girls want to be thinner. Eighty-one percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of becoming fat. Fifty-one percent of 9- and 10-year-old girls feel "better" if they are on a diet. Keep in mind that these are children we are talking about. Realize that the body-image issues that our children are developing likely begin by first grade.

So here is the question: Where does our kids' sense of "pretty" come from? And where does ours come from? I firmly believe that for most of us, our "pretty" comes from outside us, not from our hearts (as I believe that it should). In my years of research and experience with body-image and eating disorders, I've found that there are more issues in our society that contribute to our self-definitions than we would ever want to recognize. We are the stewards of our children and should contribute to their health, not create a lack thereof. 

When do we just say, "Enough!"?

Erik Fisher, Ph.D., a.k.a. Dr. E., is a licensed psychologist and author who has been featured on NBC, CBS, FOX and CNN. Visit him at to learn more about his books "The Art of Empowered Parenting" and "The Art of Managing Everyday Conflict," or to check out his blog.

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3 comments so far | Post a comment now
Matt July 8, 2010, 7:55 AM

What in the hell was the point of this article? My 10 year old nephew can write better than this mindless dribble.

Charlotte July 8, 2010, 4:35 PM

I really am getting sick of stuff like this, and not the “bad image barbie gives our children”. Barbie never did anything wrong, and neither did Dora. Sure, the companies want to make money, they are companies, that’s what they do. But had body image and eating disorders and other stuff related to it don’t come from cartoons and don’t come from toys. They come from mommy checking every angle of herself in the mirror before she goes out to get the paper, it comes from her dolling her children up like they’re nothing more then the toys they play with. It comes from daddy reading the car magazines with the “pretty ladies” on the cars and how he only looks at the pretty and skinny girls. Some of these things can come from friends too, but it starts at home. I don’t think all parents are like this, some parents try not to be and still end up having kids who worry about their weight and have all these disorders. But no teenager with weight issues even thinks about anything related to barbie, never mind how pretty she was, and how “ugly” she thinks she is. It can come from little things parents didn’t think was harmful, or from an overly obsessed friend who “needs” to be two sizes smaller, or a crush making fun of her, it comes from other things that are more directly involved with that aspect of peoples lives. Do the people who thing these things up think that we’d want to be fatter if we all played with Raggedy Ann dolls instead? Blaming dolls and cartoons it’s just a cop-out. Stop being stupid and try to fix the problems and not throw the blame around at people and things that are completely unrelated.

Berenice October 12, 2010, 10:48 AM

I would be more concerned in a 9 year old girl wanting to go on a diet than if Dora got a Makeover of if Barbie is 50 and Computer Genius. There has t be more there than an image portrayed by a girl scout.

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