For better or for worse, Barbie is still a part of many young girls’ childhoods. Growing up, I had Barbie dolls, and even 15 years later, Barbies still line the shelves of toy stores and department stores. During the holiday season, it is impossible to walk through a toy store without noticing the newest additions to the Barbie collection. Since its debut in 1959, Barbie has remained an iconic toy.
Barbie has previously come under fire for her smaller-than-average proportions, and researchers have shown that if Barbie’s proportions were life-size, she’d stand taller and thinner than the average American woman, and have a waist-to-hip ratio that wouldn’t even leave space for many of her vital organs. Despite the research that Barbie’s waistline measurements are only found in one of every 2.4 billion women, it is impossible to separate the marriage between the beauty standard that Barbie creates and the impression it leaves on young girls.
The call for diversity and inclusion has been heard across media, and in recent years, television and film have adjusted to the desire of viewers to see characters and casts that aren’t all cookie-cutter — sexual orientation, race and socio-economic diversity are more prevalent than ever. Though Barbie has also tried to keep up with this changing notion, simply introducing dolls of varied skin colors is not enough.
Within the past two years, Mattel, the brand that owns and manufactures Barbie, has decided to try a new advertising campaign approach. Instead of just being a woman with a shopping obsession and a love for baking, Barbie’s new commercial shows a young girl playing with her Barbie doll and imagining herself as a college professor. It leaves viewers with the impression that a young girl’s Barbie doll can empower her to imagine herself doing anything. As the commercial says, “You can be anything.”
While the message that Barbie hopes to instill is admirable, without a change in the standards that Mattel produces, can a young girl really be anything? How can a young girl imagine herself as being anything if she is simultaneously shown that she must be tall, thin and large-breasted to be those things?
If Barbie wants to teach young girls that they can be anything, it must first teach them how to be comfortable with themselves. It is noble to teach a child to aspire to be a college professor, a nurse or an astronaut, but I argue that it is far more difficult to teach a child that they can be anything if they cannot identify with the doll who represents these endless possibilities.
Though optimistic, I am not unrealistic. I do not suppose that Mattel will roll out a line of dolls that are homeless, or redistribute its doll that used a wheelchair, for example, due to the overarching ideology in society that finds these traits undesirable and unsellable. However, why can’t more Barbies be plus-size? Why can’t Barbie have small breasts? Why can’t Barbie be short?
Fifteen years later, I am surrounded by women who have taught me that I can be anything. These women were my teachers, my peers and my colleagues. If Barbie wants to show young girls that they can be science, technology, engineering and math majors, researchers, businesswomen and presidents, they should also show them that they can do all of these things, and they can also still look like themselves.
Hannah Rosenfield is a senior majoring in English.