In one of our previous class discussions, we were talking about how different racial, ethnic, and cultural groups perceive and define beauty. Some groups focus a lot on physical attributes, stressing on how a woman’s figure should look like, while other ethnic groups are more conservative about female beauty and physical body.

Mainly society and the media influence our perception of beauty. We see gendered advertisements everywhere. They show the stereotypical or ideal male and female figures. I feel that many of these advertisements are misleading and distort the expectations of society on what is considered “ideal”. Most of these ads aim for perfection in their models, which is generally unrealistic in reality. Many women across different racial and ethnic groups are more likely to show lower self-esteem due to the unrealistic expectations the media and the rest of society sets for them as to what is considered ideal and beautiful.

In our American society, girls as young as six or seven are already exposed to stereotypes of beauty, and from there, they may become more self-conscious and have a dangerous mindset to perfect themselves. I came across an article from Huffington Post, The Scary Reality of a Real-Life Barbie Doll, which relates quite well to our class discussions, and different perceptions of beauty. All Barbie Dolls that we see in toy stores portray the “perfect” ideal figure in American society – small waistline, large bust, long legs, and small feet. All these physical traits may look great – if you were an 11.5-inch doll.

The Scary Reality Of A Real-Life Barbie Doll
Galia Slayen | Apr 8, 2011 11:59 AM EDT
Some people have skeletons in their closet. I have an enormous Barbie in mine.
She stands about six feet tall with a 39″ bust, 18″ waist, and 33″ hips. These are the supposed measurements of Barbie if she were a real person. I built her as a part of the first National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAW) at my high school, later introducing her to Hamilton College during its first NEDAW in 2011.
When I was a little girl, I played with my Barbie in her playhouse, sending her and Ken on dates that always ended with a goodnight kiss. I had fond times with my Barbie, and I admired her perfect blonde locks and slim figure. Barbie represented beauty, perfection and the ideal for young girls around the world. At least, as a seven-year-old, that is what she was to me.
In January 2007, I was looking for a way to make my peers realize the importance of eating disorders and body image issues. I was frustrated after quitting the cheerleading squad, frustrated with pressures to look and act a certain way and most of all frustrated with the eating disorder controlling my life. I wanted to do something that would turn others’ apathy into action. That evening, my neighbor and I found two long pieces of wood and started measuring. With a little math, nails and hammering, we built a stick figure that stood about six feet tall.
The chicken wire came next. Surrounding her wooden frame, we created a body that wasn’t much thicker than a stick figure, but had the womanly and unattainable curves and proportions that impressionable young girls idealize. We stuffed the chicken wire with newspaper and created a body that creepily leaned against the wall in my neighbor’s basement. She now needed some skin, so I brought her back to my apartment and employed the masterful art of papier maché.
Taking stacks of newspaper, glue and water, I skipped my high school semi-formal dance to give my girl some skin. Oddly, I started to feel my fondness for Barbie return, now not as a plaything but as a tool to reveal the negative body image that she promotes. As I papier machéd, I couldn’t forget Barbie’s impressive bust and blew up balloons over and over again to achieve a perfect 39″ measurement. Once her chest was secured, I spent hours dipping and smoothing the paper, and later mixed paints to replicate her seemingly perfect white skin tone. With a little hard work and a lot of time, a headless, footless and handless body soon stood in my apartment.
But it was then I became stumped. I couldn’t figure out how to recreate the recognizable face of the Barbie we all know and love. With NEDAW just around the corner, I was panicked. On my way to get office supplies, I drove by a Toys ‘R’ Us, and that’s when it hit me. Remember that Barbie with just shoulders and a head, meant for you to practice brushing her hair? I confidently walked into the toy store for the first time since I was a kid. I found the Barbie head, found a friend to assemble that head, and clothed Barbie for her first debut.
I dressed Barbie in my old clothes. The skirt she still has on today is a reminder of who I once was. That skirt, a size double zero, used to slip off my waist when I was struggling with anorexia. I put it on Barbie to serve as a reminder that the way Barbie looks, the way I once looked, is not healthy and is not “normal,” whatever normal might mean. My Barbie’s role is simple. She grabs the attention of apathetic onlookers and makes them think and talk about an issue that thrives in silence. In the last four years, Barbie has surpassed my expectations, attracting attention and sparking conversation among listeners and readers across the nation.
Once a year, at the end of February, Barbie comes out of the closet to meet my friends, strangers, and those apathetic onlookers. During NEDAW, she reminds people that eating disorders and body image issues are serious and prevalent. Holding an awareness week in high school or college is just one way to get students to discuss these important issues. However, constant discussion and education is key to dealing with and overcoming eating disorders.
Despite her bizarre appearance, Barbie provides something that many advocacy efforts lack. She reminds of something we once loved, while showing us the absurdity of our obsession with perfection.
More “Get Real, Barbie” statistics:*
• There are two Barbie dolls sold every second in the world.
• The target market for Barbie doll sales is young girls ages 3-12 years of age.
• A girl usually has her first Barbie by age 3, and collects a total of seven dolls during her childhood.
• Over a billion dollars worth of Barbie dolls and accessories were sold in 1993, making this doll big business and one of the top 10 toys sold.
• If Barbie were an actual women, she would be 5’9″ tall, have a 39″ bust, an 18″ waist, 33″ hips and a size 3 shoe.
• Barbie calls this a “full figure” and likes her weight at 110 lbs.
• At 5’9″ tall and weighing 110 lbs, Barbie would have a BMI of 16.24 and fit the weight criteria for anorexia. She likely would not menstruate.
• If Barbie was a real woman, she’d have to walk on all fours due to her proportions.
• Slumber Party Barbie was introduced in 1965 and came with a bathroom scale permanently set at 110 lbs with a book entitled “How to Lose Weight” with directions inside stating simply “Don’t eat.”

Galia Slayen was once a young adult who struggled with anorexia, and is now back to a healthy state. She currently helps other people who struggle with eating disorders, and shows them the reality of distorted body images. Slayen recreated a life-size version of Barbie, with the same body proportions she would have if she were real. This life-size model of Barbie stands at 5’9” tall, 110 lbs, with a 39” bust, an 18” waistline, 33” hips, and size 3 feet. Slayen uses this model to show people who struggle with eating disorders about the reality behind “perfection”.

This goes to say that media influences individuals and ethnic groups differently. I have actually watched a documentary on beauty, which was talking about how in some countries, men prefer thin and slender women, and in other countries, only heavy-set women are considered beautiful. Women in these countries go to the extent to force feed their daughters until they are regurgitating food back out. They try to “fatten” them up early in life, so that their daughters will be desirable to other men, and eventually get married in the future. Not only is this physically unhealthy, it is also traumatizing to the child at such a young age.

In many middle-eastern countries, women are strictly forbidden from displaying feminine beauty. Thus, they are required to keep themselves covered from head to toe. On the other hand, in western-countries, women value youth and beauty, and in many cases, they strive to achieve the “ideal” body. If you take a look at some magazine covers or the ads inside them, the models advertise for clothing or make-up. They may look “perfect”, however, some people may not know that these kinds of ads are photo-shopped or edited to perfection. Society begins to idealize these disoriented and often impossible to achieve body images. Cultures and societies must look into these things more closely, so they can redefine what is considered as “normal”, and avoid putting pressure on individuals, especially women to achieve what is impossible.



2 responses

  1. I took a psychology of women class last semester and our midterm mainly consisted of gender ads and being able to identify and define the various ways in which women are portrayed in media. I never really considered what Barbie would look like in real life. I definitely did not think of my Barbie as having large breasts. In retrospect, the life size proportions seem plausible. Yes, the idea of “what is beautiful” is different in all societies but the most important statistic, I think, is the one for this particular culture. The expectations are high but only because we subconsciously want it that way. A documentary that I saw said that female magazine ads are for men to look at and women to buy into. We like Lancome and Maybelline and Covergirl and MAC but do we ever actually understand that we are being sold an image that we should portray? Do you ever think this? I believe I have once or twice in passing but never did I really stop and consider it. Does anyone else agree with this?

  2. santanay says:

    Wow. I think what Galia Slayen is doing is great, I totally agree with her ideas. I personally have never envisioned Barbie life size and looking at her in the picture amazes me. This image of Barbie is abnormal and imperfect. It is true that these images are being sold to us and lately not just to woman but also to men. This standard of beauty is that of the tall, white, extremely skinny blonde. And even though I agree that the ideas of beauty are different among societies, I feel as if this westernized beauty is becoming more worldwide. Women are trying to acquire this look, in places outside the U.S.
    In order to change this standard I think that the media needs to play a huge role. They need to incorporate different types of woman in their commercials, magazines etc. The reality is that we, woman, do not look like the faces and bodies we regularly see on these magazines. We come in all shapes and sizes, in different tones. This image of beauty is not only problematic for woman of color but also for white woman. As Galia Slayen mentioned in her article most women do not know that the images we see are photo shopped to perfection. The attempts to acquire these abnormal body types lead to illnesses’ such as anorexia, bulimia etc. My opinion is that we need to inform and make other woman more conscious of this standard. And let them know that it is not normal and realistic. We need to form our own standard of beauty where we include all types of woman.