The Barbie Debate

A few weeks back I posted a pic of the newly released Computer Engineer Barbie on my facebook fanpage, and it caused a little bit of a stir.  I decided to share some thoughts on the Barbie debate here as a couple of readers challenged me to post about it.

I must say up front that I am not a big fan of barbie dolls.  My daughter doesn’t have any, and it would take some serious convincing for me to hand over money for one.  For me, the big problem with Barbie is to do with body image.  I am not a curvaceous woman by any stretch of the imagination.  I was probably in my late teens before I realised I was waiting for curves that would never appear.  Barbie has curves in all the “right” places.  It’s really important to me to teach both my daughter and my son that a barbie-figure is not the ultimate figure.  My figure is just fine.  Ok, so there’s a bit of a jelly belly going on after having two kids, but there is nothing WRONG with my figure.  I’m not sure that having barbies around the house will reinforce that.

In Barbie’s defence, while not much has changed with her figure her career prospects have certainly improved.  I guess that’s why I posted the pic in the first place.  Who would have thought 50 years ago that Barbie would be getting her geek on?  I know, she still has an hourglass figure, unrealistically long legs and blonde hair to her cinched waist – but more brain than we’ve seen her with before.

Mattel hope geek barbie “inspires a new generation of girls to explore this important high-tech industry, which continues to grow and need future female leaders.”  I don’t know.  I kinda think that’s going to come down to the example set by real women.  Without binary code tees or bluetooth headsets.

So I guess the verdict for me is that Computer Engineer Barbie interests me enough to post her pic online, but not enough to buy her for my daughter.  What about you?  Do you think Barbie is finally becoming a more balanced babe, with a brain?  Or is she still just an idealised body shape with a few geeky (pink) accessories added?  (Or – given that she’s just a doll should I stop thinking about it so much and not project my body image issues on to her…?!)

PS – There are lots of other posts around about geek barbie.  I loved this one from Geek Dad and this one from the BBC about making Computer Engineer Barbie more realistic.

29 thoughts on “The Barbie Debate

  1. I loved my Barbie dolls growing up, so although Immy is still too young for them, I am sure that we will invest in at least one in the foreseeable future. I think that 99% of dolls and figurines available are unrealistic looking so I suppose I have never really worried too much about the body perception issue as it applies to dolls.

    At Christmastime I was looking to buy a doll for Immy and saw a set of boy and girl toilet training dolls, supposedly with genitals. The boy had what you could imagine was a penis but no testicles and the girl just had a pinhole! We still have a long way to go when it comes to all dolls, not just Barbie!
    .-= Christie @ Childhood 101´s last blog ..Finding our Rhythm =-.

  2. While I played with barbies as a kid, I don’t plan on purchasing them for my girls. I hate the disproportionate body and the sexy curves. (Those D cups mock me.)

    My daughter will have plenty of exposure to “fashion” in her life; it’s my job to guide her towards developing her character, honing her imagination, and instilling in her a love of learning. There are better tools than Barbie to help me do that, whether or not she’s currently exploring the computer sciences.
    .-= Christianne @ Little Page Turners´s last blog ..Fancy Nancy Party – Accessorize! =-.

  3. I have a strong aversion to barbies, even though I always really wanted them as a kid (and I think I even had one or two). The body image thing bothers me. As does the fact that this ‘high-tech’ barbie has a pink laptop and pink glasses. Ok, I know that it’s a doll, and I could be reading way too much into it. But it looks a bit like barbie playing dress up.
    .-= Zoey @ Good Goog´s last blog ..Cupcakes are the New Black =-.

  4. My sister & myself both had Barbie & Sindy (UK version, slightly shorter & C cups!) dolls growing up. We are chalk & cheese, she’s 5’10 & a ‘pear’ while I am 5’2 & ‘hourglass’, neither of us currently have body issues, Barbie was just pretty. Even when I mohawked her! I also played with strawberry shortcake (huge headed doll!) which looked like an early version of an anime doll. Any body issues we may have had (in my opinion) more likely stemmed from our Mum, as she was the most likely to influence our behaviour!
    I’ll buy my daughter a Barbie if she wants one as (in my opinion) as long as I can teach her to love & care for her own body, she will see Batbie for what she is, just a doll!

  5. I loved barbies as a girl, my friend and I played with them after school atleast 4 times a week. The same way my kids play with little people now. Im sure Zoe is not going to grow up and think people are short and stumpy either. I do not recall ever having a conversation saying that When I grow up Im going to be 36 15 36. Kids dont put that much thought into it. They are just dolls. So yes we have a barbieish house car horse ones that sing some from the disney collection. We have some boy ones and fairy ones too. If Riley wants action figure men he can have those too. Im sure he is not going to think that when he grows up he is going to turn green and be an incredible hulk either. Oh we also have 3 barbie mermaids in the bath. Zoe has not yet told me that when she grows up that she wants a tail either. people put way to much thought into things these days. Sometimes my kids colour with black crayons – I dont think they are going to grow up and be gothic. They love playing dressups does not make me think when they grow up they are going to want to join the circus. Sorry Cath but Im a huge toy fan and barbie is one of my favourites.

  6. Hmmm interesting one, I was such a big fan of Barbie as a child. I knew I didn’t look like her and I don’t remember that ever being an issue for me. As a mum I have more of a problem with Bratz dolls but that’s a whole different debate. Personally I love that we have ‘tech-savvy Barbie’, and some tech-savvy women do look like that and some don’t and I think that’s OK. Not sure what the alternative would be – how would they make a ‘normal looking’ doll? What is ‘normal’ anyway? We’re all different, and special aren’t we, no matter how we look. I don’t know the answer to this one … but I am glad that Barbie has the freedom to do lots of different things.
    Thanks for sharing this one Cath!
    .-= Peace´s last blog ..CONNECT 2010 CONFERENCE ~INSPIRATION, MOTIVATION, CONNECTION, CELEBRATION =-.

  7. I think as long as parents are positive role models for their children, there is very little that a couple of plastic dolls can do on their own to harm a child. I’m not a fan, but my daughter had 2 Barbies and even a couple of Bratz dolls. At 12, she has yet to show signs of body image issues or skankiness, as is so often predicted. Her family and peers are a much bigger influence than Barbie could ever be.
    .-= Meredith @ thinkthinks´s last blog ..Neither Rhyme nor Reason =-.

  8. I have to say I think Ness is on the money.

    Dolls aren’t what colour our perceptions of ourselves – that’s other people. I am Barbie-esque in shape – big boobs, big hips, very small waist by comparison, but without the impossibly long and slender legs. I have pretty crappy body image and self-esteem WRT my body and I don’t put it down to owning a Barbie when I was young.

    I know that my body issues are a direct result of what people said and didn’t say when I was younger – peers, parents, media, damned cosmetic companies, et al.

    CE Barbie does look a little bit like Barbie playing dress-ups though. And until we see the full range of Barbies encompassing Architect Barbie, Garbage Collector Barbie, Structural Engineer Barbie, Air Force Pilot Barbie, World-renowned Nobel Prize for Physics-winning Barbie, and Science Geek Barbie, this strikes me as a cynical ploy to make Barbie a bit more acceptable on the political-correctness scale.

  9. My sister and I LOVED our Barbies as kids. We had a special one each and we would play with them for hours and hours. What we didn’t have for our Barbies, our neighbourhood friends did. (Not that we or our friends had that much!) We spent our time being creative with them, making clothes, making Fimo food and other accessories. I never remember a time in my life when I even considered that Barbie was prettier or more perfect than anyone. She was just a doll that I could dress up and do her hair. So, I guess I don’t really have a problem with Barbies. My girls already have a few that they’ve been given or we’ve found in great condition at Op Shops. They don’t get played with yet but I’m sure that day will come. My husband and I are probably more turned off by the message dolls like Brats dolls send out to little girls.
    .-= BusyBrissyMum´s last blog ..Fun and Free – Queen’s Park is the Place to Be! =-.

  10. Although some may be surprised at this as I am a passionate body image advocate and write on my blog about it regularly – I am not as opposed to Barbie as some may think me to be. I absolutely understand she is ludicrously proportioned and that is not a good thing, but I also think we need to be wary of giving her too much power by stating she is a terrible construct for girls when it comes to their body image.

    I agree with Meredith. How girls interpret Barbie in their lives can be entirely modelled by their parents, and in particular their Mothers. If we don’t uphold her as a bastion of beauty and perfection – then she’s not. If a girl wants a Barbie, I think that’s ok – as long as it’s mixed up with science kits, larger dolls, balls, skipping ropes, puzzles etc. As long as she does not entirely inhabit a ‘Barbie’ world – things should be ok.

    My stepdaughter who is now nearly 12, loved Bratz dolls when she was younger. She did not come into my life until she was 7 and she already had them. If it had been up to me I probably would not have promoted buying them but she played with them for quite awhile (often while I was watching!) and essentially as she is a mad keen horse rider – all she did was fling them around on her soft plush horses! She’s since moved on and doesn’t play with dolls at all. For whatever reason, she was never interested in Barbies.

    I guess this is one where it really is up to every Mum to make a decision she feels most comfortable with. If Barbie really freaks you out and you think it may have a negative impact – don’t buy them for your daughter. If you prepared to watch her play and ensure she is not picking up any strange body/esteem cues from the doll – could be worth a try as it is a great chance to open up a conversation with your daughter about how “beautiful and healthy people come in all shapes and sizes you know darling – and none of them look like Barbie…..she’s just a play doll.”

  11. I was sure I wanted Barbie in my house due to the whole body image thing, but that decision was taken out of my hands when my sister bought my little girl one for her birthday last year. (I perhaps didn’t voice my opinion of this loud enough, although same sister gave her a Bratz doll for Christmas and I had been VERY loud about that. Her son will get noisy toys from now until the end of time as pay back)

    At the time, my daughter didn’t take to it all that much. She liked the doll, but dressing her was still difficult.

    When we lived with my parents for 6 weeks whilst we waited for our house to be built Barbie was one of the few toys that didn’t get put into storage, and therefore climbed the popularity ladder.

    And then it was Christmas.

    Aside from the various Barbie toys she received there was her first Barbie dvd. And due to a shipping incident Mummy had to run out and get new presents last minute, which included the Barbie laptop.

    The laptop was great and a big hit, more because she can sit there and “work” when Mummy and Daddy use theirs, but the big change, the one that made Barbie the queen of toys in our house was the dvd.

    We now own over half the dvd’s (usually after borrowing them from the library to check them out first), and we have 4 Barbies and a Ken doll. A lot of our time is spent “performing” the dvd stories, either with the dolls or on our own (I spent an hour in the pool as a dolphin yesterday playing “Mermaid Tale”.

    Barbie is always shown as a problem -solver. She is decisive and follows her dreams and beliefs. Sometimes she doesn’t even marry the prince! I don’t think my daughter even notices how Barbie looks (apart from her long hair), but she does see how Barbie acts.

    I don’t like the obsession, but I know that like all the others she will grow out of it. If it teaches her that girls can be independent and achieve whatever they set out to, then I guess I will swallow and misgivings and let her enjoy it.
    .-= amandab´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday – DVD’S & Donuts =-.

  12. Oh … just thought I’d mention .. all 4 of our Barbies has different body proportions, which is a pain when putting their clothes on!

    I have to watch MYSELF when I tell Barbie, “Barbie, you ate too much pasta last night and now I can’t do your dress up!”

    WHO is creating the body issues???

    Perhaps it’s not Barbie, but the way we interact with her that could be the issue …
    .-= amandab´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday – DVD’S & Donuts =-.

  13. I’m not a barbie fan, although for me the body image is just one of the issues. I also have a problem with the level of intelligence implied and the clear race distinctions, but mostly with the big brand consumer issues. If a child wanted a barbie doll because she felt passionate about if for some reason, then that’s fine, but more often than not it is because of branding, marketing and peer pressure. Would they still want it if it wasn’t a called Barbie?

  14. Ah Barbie and I have a love hate relationship that is for sure. I swore I would never by my daughters one for all the reasons you’ve said and more, but then they were given some as gifts…. and them movies… and now we have plenty in this house in various versions.

    I am still not a fan of Barbie for her body image message – and the message doesn’t simply come from the actual doll these days, there are movies, magazines, web sites, computer games… some of these all send what I believe are dubious, if un-obvious, messages to our children and our society about what women and girls should be….

    But I have not banned Barbie in our house. Instead we’ve talked about some of the issues she raises. I’ve talked to my girls about how some Barbie’s body shapes are impossible, and not how real girls and women look. We’ve also talked about clothes and fashion, and how some movies/stories/ads/toys etc can make you think something that might not actually be true.

    So Barbie has become a learning tool of sorts… I still don’t like the fashion Barbies, though I am more ok with the fantasy/fairy Barbies, but she is part of our house for better or for worse!
    .-= katef´s last blog ..The Story of Dash the Rooster. =-.

  15. I don’t have a problem with Barbie anymore than any other highly marketed children’s toys (you know, all the ones that are not just toys, but cups, bags, t-shirts, movies etc). The other day my daughter (not yet 2) discovered my old Barbie dolls at my parents’ place. She LOVED playing with the “ladies” (as she called them) and their car and horse. I won’t be buying Barbie dolls for her in any hurry (or maybe ever), but I don’t mind if she is exposed to them, either at friends’ houses, or if she is given one as a gift.

    I must confess, my best friend and I were still playing with our Barbies in year 8! (The storylines by then were quite complex and involved!)
    .-= Julie´s last blog ..Medical money saving tip =-.

  16. I am sure Barbie Doll is not the only thing in our society which give little girls a distorted body image of woman. Yes, Barbie is one of many dolls my 4 years old have. Like it or not, it is difficult to stop my girl recieving Barbie doll as gift.

    There are dentist Barbie, doctor Barbie, sports Barbie… So she is not all bad body image.

    Catherine, I love this post! Well done!

  17. I rather the like the Barbie DVDs. My girls are big into princess movies despite me trying to get them more interested in Jane and the Dragon and other types of shows.

    Barbie beats Disney Princess hands down for being independent problem solver in her movies and she doesn’t need the guy to do it for her.

    And in an exciting turn of events my youngest has upgraded herself from Princess to Goddess, yesterday she was the goddess of rain and today she was the goddess of sunshine. Imaginative play is all good and I’m happy for her to be a princess or a goddess in moderation :-)

  18. Had to laugh Cath, your gravatar is right next to the picture of barbie and I have to say there are some remarkable similarities!

    Mmmmm, tech-savvy woman with pink accessories, seems to ring a bell ;)

    Love the post by the way. Nothing as good as the toy debate to get people talking.
    .-= Claudette´s last blog ..Natural Love =-.

  19. @Claudette

    Wow, 18 comments before anyone noticed! LOL When I looked at the preview of my post it was the first thing I saw. I laughed at the irony of posting about Barbie being oh-so-unrealistic when actually, side by side, geek barbie and I have some distinct similarities. I even asked my husband whether he thought I should move the picture up a bit, or change my pic!! He just laughed too and said “I wonder how long it will be before a reader points it out…?”

  20. LOL laughing at the last 2 comments!
    I didn’t grow up with Barbie and I felt left out.
    Then I decided that Barbie was bad and I didn’t want my girls having any.
    Then they were given Barbie for gifts and I rethought my motives.
    Now I try to teach them that Barbie is fictional – the same way we talk about movies and shows being made up.
    Now my girls 8,6 and 2 only play Barbie when they have friends over.
    I’m hoping it’s not really an issue….
    .-= Michelle´s last blog ..She Is Beautiful – Soft Whispers =-.

  21. Hey Cath,

    Wow, everyone loves to talk about Barbie! I must say that as a child I did not like Barbie not sure why I think its because I always though she was for little kids and I always wanted to be grown up and before I had my daughter I always though I would not allow her to have Babies.

    But now I am a big fan of the dolls and the movies, Barbie is a strong, independent fictional character, she doesn’t swear or dumb herself down, she isn’t bitchy or rude, she is never the damsel and always the hero,she cares for others and all to a great musical soundtrack! ( I must admit I am a sucker for a musical!)

    I don’t believe in the fashion dolls for young girls, mostly because I find the clothing very inappropriate. But we do have a small collection of fairytale Barbie dolls and movies and I find my daughter draws more from Barbie’s characters of adventure, bravery, singing for all occasions and caring for others then from being blonde, and skinny.

    Katy x

  22. I loved Barbie as a kid – got my first one for my 7th birthday, “Quick Curl Barbie”. My daughter just wasn’t interested in Barbie, or most dolls. She preferred her stuffed toys … right to this day … even now she’s a teenager! LOL

  23. Hi Cath,
    I love reading your blog and always find helpful hints for my parenting skills. This certainly is an interesting topic. I played with lots of Barbies as a child – and I mean lots! In fact it could be fair to say that I was a barbie freak. I had heaps of them. The thing is, I don’t ever remember looking at Barbie and thinking wow, I want to look like her or be like her when I grow up. Barbie was just a toy. I spent many wonderful hours playing with her and doing her hair etc. Now I too have a daughter – 2 of them in fact. One is 3 and the other just 1. My 3 year old loves Barbie as well. Loves playing with her and brushing her hair just as I did. She loves for me to play “Barbies” with her and its in this time that I often hear previous conversations that we have had come out. I use this time to role play with her and try to teach her.

    In regards to body image, well as a mum I think that’s my job to try and show her to love and accept herself just as she is by doing that with myself. I certainly don’t have a perfect body and would love to swap with someone else some days but I have come to accept that I can’t be bothered to diet heaps and can’t afford plastic surgery. Anyway, I have made a rule that I will never talk negatively about my own body in front of my girls and have even instructed other female relatives to do the same. If you can’t say anything nice, then well just don’t say it. I think its far more dangerous in regards to body image when us mums and aunts and grandma’s speak about ourselves badly in front of our children. Anyway, just my thoughts….

  24. I loved playing with Barbie dolls when I was a girl and I enjoy watching my youngest daughter enjoy playing with them too! She loves changing their clothes and creates wonderful games. Even now, I enjoy strolling down the Barbie isle and looking at all the beautiful clothes. To me, it’s a lot of fun.

    Personally, I think a ‘bad’ body image is a collection of many things. While it’s important to shelter my children, it’s impossible to eliminate all forms of negative body image. Instead, I try and instil the truth of ‘real’ beauty in their lives.

    As I remember, I didn’t even think of a Barbie’s body when I was playing with them. I do wonder sometimes, if we ‘plant’ seeds unknowingly because we are trying so hard not to??? Hmmm, interesting thought.

    In saying that, I don’t buy ‘Bratz’ dolls for the obvious ‘attitude’ so I guess it’s a personal thing.

    Interesting post. Enjoyed reading everyone’s comments.
    .-= Kelly Burstow´s last blog ..Books are NOT Just for Reading =-.

  25. I don’t think I’ll be giving my daughter Barbie dolls to play with. I grew up with Barbie dolls but I think she’s just a bit too thin & perfect looking! LOL. I’ll happily give my daughter cabbage patch dolls to play with as they don’t fit the stereotype of a stick thin girl. :)

  26. loved reading this and all of the comments.

    i also loved playing with barbies growing up. had a massive barbie house, a fancy barbie car, lots of barbie dolls, and heaps and heaps of clothes. i LOVED dressing them up in different clothes and doing their hair over and over. surprised any of them were left with any hair as i brushed it SO much. playing with my barbie dolls is one of my only childhood memories–and a happy one at that. never did my mum talk to me about barbie’s body, or my own for that matter. and i think the only thing i may have taken from my barbie phase is that, for a long time, i thought i wanted to grow up to me a hairdresser.
    i have immense body issues but i can DEFINITELY say that none of them came from playing with barbies. i am sure of that. i know mine came from a heap of things i.e. growing up in california from ages 9-19 where body image is a gigantic issue; from having a baby when i was only 15 which changed my then slim body drasically (extra tummy skin never returned to normal); not having confidence instilled in me from my mum or real father, etc, etc.
    i have a two year old daughter now and raising her to be strong and self-assured in every way is at the forefront of my mind…and that includes playing with barbie dolls. i am EXCITED at the thought of sitting down with her to dress them up and make their hair look nice….but i am MORE excited to know my little girl will get her self-esteem and value from myself and my husband rather than a doll or other things that can influence us.
    thanks for giving us the chance to share ourselves, our thoughts, and to reminise a bit on our days of play. : )
    (FYI: i was just rereading this outloud to check it, and my daughter just said “i want a barbie doll” outloud (as she heard me saying it). she does have one that we picked up at an op shop so she knows the name already, but i thought that was pretty funny)

  27. Hi, I’m a 13 year old girl and my class is doing a debate on whether Barbie should look more ‘normal’ or not. I’m opposing the motion because Barbie never influenced me when I was growing up.
    I wanted to thank you for helping me put my anger into words-Barbie was a good friend and very fun. I’m most deffinetely NOT a Barbie girl (tanned, dark curly hair etc.) but I love myself the way I am. Maybe it had something to do with my amazing African mother who had a strict upbringing and tends to have ‘girl’ talks during an episode of Glee. It’s annoying but they’ve kept me grounded and when I’m older, I want to be like my Mum, not like Barbie.

  28. This article reminds us that everything we do reinforces how we think about self-image and what kinds of messages we are sending to our children. The toys we buy express our beliefs and what messages we support. It is a great thing to raise awareness that something as innocent-looking as a toy is itself sending subconscious messages to our children about our ideals and expectations.

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