Influence of Barbie on Gender Identity


Blonde hair, blue eyes, tall, thin, and beautiful are the sort of things most people will picture when they think of Barbie. The influence of Barbie dolls on gender identity in American households is negatively influenced by Barbie's "perfect" body image, discrimination of minority girls, and her stereotypical feminine roles. Socialization is a process in which people, especially young children, are introduced to the world and its ways. In this specific case, young girls who play with dolls would be socialized to be a nurturer or caregiver. However, with Barbie dolls, these girls are being introduced to much maturer ways of thinking and acting. Instead of learning how to become a successful young woman, a young girl may become to feel insecure with herself or even inferior to others simply by choosing a Barbie doll over another more age appropriate doll.

Barbie was made as a toy for young girls. It wasn’t invented to influence anyone’s gender. We all know the difference between males and females. As a child I never wanted to look like Barbie, and she certainly did not influence my gender or identity in any way. I don’t know any little girls who didn’t play with or own a Barbie doll growing up. In February of 2010 the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Women’s Center hosted several events surrounding Barbie. They wrote an article on the positive influences on Barbie. “Growing up, I never thought deeper about Barbie. All I was worried about was whether or not Barbie had all her accessories and looked pretty once I clothed her. I never once thought that I should strive to look like Barbie or that she was the epitome of feminine beauty. Barbie was just a doll; that was it.” (University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2010)

Barbie has become successful through her looks and positive demeanor. And although a good attitude towards life is something that cannot be argued with, physical features should not be used in measuring success. Barbie is seen as to have the "perfect" body image because she is tall and skinny, and has an overall pleasant appearance. Due to this fact, Barbie is hardly ever seen fully clothed when she is out on her many endeavors. She is often seen at the beach, a shopping trip, or on a date with her handsome boyfriend Ken. How is it that Barbie has the "perfect" guy, and all the leisure time she could possibly ask for? Barbie portrays a girl who can get whatever she wants through her looks. With this in mind, it is not hard to imagine that this could be the reason she wears such skimpy outfits and would not be spotted dead without her high heels. To dress skimpy for attention is an outrage! At such a young age, girls believe that this is what they are supposed to dress like when they are old enough to start wanting attention from boys. Not only does Barbie's choice of outfits affect young girls, but her appearance has a detrimental impact as well
**{Vignette: //Barbie Influences Both The Young And Old//}.** Girls want to look just like Barbie with her long blonde hair, perfectly straight, white teeth, and an effortless bikini body. "Researchers generating a computer model of a woman with Barbie-doll proportions, for example, 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" (Beauty and Body Image in the Media). Barbie has not had to work for the characteristics she possesses, but young girls who aspire to have them might. Most respectable women do not fit Barbie's physical description. Girls need to be taught at a young age that the stereotypical Barbie image is not the only way to be beautiful and successful.


We can all argue that Barbie is beautiful or has the perfect body, but according to who? Every person has their own views on beauty. I’m sure as a child, most of us we taught that true beauty is on the inside. Plus clothes and make-up don’t make you who you are. It’s tragic that we forget these important lessons.
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When you think of Barbie, how does she look? Now, with that image in mind ask yourself: “What does the average young girl look like?” With so many different ethnicities and backgrounds in our country alone, come many different looks. From hair and skin tones to shapes, sizes and different culturally accepted wardrobes. Why is it that the largest quantity of Barbie’s for sale today looks like such a small percentage of real girls? Blonde hair, blue eyes, tall and skinny with provocative clothes is the stereotypical Barbie image. Gender identity is impacted by so many factors at a very young age, Barbie being a very big one. She influences children to wish to look, act and dress a certain way to feel more socially accepted. The original Barbie was introduced in 1959, but it wasn’t until the 1980’s that Mattel introduced African American Barbie, Hispanic Barbie and continued their International Collection. (Barbie History). Although these Barbie's are available, they're not as easily accessible in places such as the United States where diversity is a major component. Children should be taught to love themselves for who they are and that they're all beautiful in their own way, but Barbie shows just the opposite. Barbie's unrealistic beauty and provocative clothes make her a very poor example for children to look up to. "Jill Barad president of Mattel (which manufactures Barbie) estimated that 99% of girls aged 3 to 10 years old own at least one Barbie doll" (Barbie boots up).A huge competitor of Barbie is the American Girl doll whose line of dolls offers many different looks to be able to buy a doll that looks most like a real young girl.

If Barbie has such a negative effect, why do we keep purchasing them? It’s amazing that even with all the other dolls that compete to look like Barbie, such as Bratz or Moxie Girl, that sales are still going strong. “Global Barbie sales rose 12% from the year-ago quarter. U.S. Barbie sales increased 9%. Mattel has been restaging its Barbie line with the addition of Fashionistas. This is "by far the biggest increase in Barbie sales in over 10 years," Needham & Co. analyst Sean McGowan said.” (Andrejczak, 2010) There are many blogs about Barbie being negative and yet women still flock to buy them for holidays and birthdays
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Barbie is very known for her stereotypical feminine roles. At first glance it might seem like Barbie has a wide variety of careers that can be a good influence on young girls. However, it's not necessarily what she does, but how she does it. She may be a Doctor but she is not a brain surgeon or Psychologist. She is simply just called Doctor Barbie and comes with two babies. She is all ready for work in hot pink spandex and high heels. This implies to young girls that their major role in life is to take care of children and babies. Doctor and Astronaut Barbies are produced, but they are very hard to purchase and are usually limited edition. Barbie also has a hard time sticking with one career. "She's been a teacher, a vet, a dentist, an Olympic Skater, and now all these people. She really can't hold a job," says Enid Nemy in the New York Times (Nemy, p. 2). Barbie's career changing lifestyle could give young girls the impression that they don't have to pick just one career. They can keep hopping from job to job that requires up to and over 8 years of school or years of athletic training. While it is great for young girls to see that they can be whatever they wish to be, it is not good for them to see such a spastic career life. It's much better for young girls to find influences in people in real life and apply that to their playtime rather than have it all set up for them with Baby sitting fun Barbie doll.
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However, one could say that these aspects also make Barbie a positive influence. She has many different careers and explores her options. Barbie has been everything from a Doctor to an Astronaut and has even run for president. This shows young girls that can be anything they desire and not to let a stereotype of something being a “man’s job” get in their way. Barbie can also show young men that women are capable of doing just about anything that a man can do. This can help stereotypical views on sexism that women cannot have certain jobs or roles in life. Also, with the rising issues with obesity in America and unhealthy lifestyles her figure could be a positive goal to strive for for young girls. She is confident in her appearance as young girls should be. Barbie portrays a much healthier weight than the average overweight woman that American society today portrays. According to Webmd 63.1% of Americans were either overweight or obese in 2009 (Hendrick ). Barbie started as an affordable way for children to play with real dolls. Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie dolls once said, "How much richer would the girls' play be if instead of flimsy paper dolls, they had a real grown-up doll?"( Puente, 2009). This is a great idea becuase young girls thenand today are able to have an affordable option to be able to play with a real doll. cindy-jackson[1].jpg
Barbie is not the only doll out there so if you feel she is not an appropriate influence for your child, you are not doomed. Girls today have many options when it comes to play time with dolls. The American Girl doll series is a great way for girls to play and still have great relatable positive influences. The American girls come from various backgrounds, such as growing up in during World War 2, during the great depression, and many more eras. Molly, the doll from World War 2, doesn’t come with a dream house. She comes with a Victory Garden that helped her family save money during the war. These dolls help children have play time, but not be flooding with unrealistic expectations in life such as a “Dream House” equipped with working elevator and hot tub. You can even have an American Girl Doll customized to look exactly like you. This may sound creepy but it gives young girls the impression that they are great just the way they are. So great in fact that a doll was made to look just like them and not like a stereotype. These dolls are a great way for kids to get a history lesson and a positive self-image while having play time. They won’t even realize how much they are learning. These dolls are a much better option than the controversial Barbie doll. Barbie’s figure may be a positive goal to strive for however Mattel does not portray the realistic efforts involved in achieving this figure. Despite the desires of Barbie’s creator Ruth Handler, that Barbie should be a realistic doll to play with, the design of Barbie dolls have evolved over the years to an unrealistic expectation for a woman’s body shape. Some women end up taking this image over the top. One woman, Cindy Jackson, has over gone over $200,000 in surgery just to look like Barbie. Cindy Jackson has said, “Through Barbie I could glimpse an alternative destiny” (Jackson, Cindy). This shows how much of an impact the image Barbie can have on young girls even leading into adulthood. This can also have a role in how boys can grow up to have unrealistic expectations in women’s appearances.

Over all, people may say that Barbie is just a doll, but she is so much more. Barbie is a negative influence on gender identity in American households because of a negative body image, negative image towards minority girls, and her stereotypical feminine roles. She has been around for so many years and will probably be around for many more to come. Our job is to teach young children to love who they are and that there are many other role models to look up to. Barbie will probably never age, always be unrealistically thin, and could have a different career everyday. We must show children that everyone is beautiful in their own way and that they can reach their goals in life through a more realistic approach: hard work and dedication.

It’s clear that Barbie does not define who we are. She is just a foot tall, piece of plastic. Her many careers let girls know that there is more to women then just being beautiful or perfect. For example, one of her careers is a veterinarian, we know it takes a lot of schooling and responsibility to have such a prestigious career. We also know that she didn’t get that career on her good looks, perfect proportions, or closet full of clothes. Barbie is what you make of her like many other things in life. She wasn’t made to make girls feel bad about the way they look. After 50 years little girls still love to play with her. Coincidence, I think not.

The company Mattel which currently owns the rights to the Barbie doll was originally created to produce picture frames in 1945. The Barbie doll invention was created by Ruth Handler in 1959. Handler watched her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls as a child and wanted to create a doll in which her daughter could be imaginative with. When taking a trip to Europe, Handler purchased a doll named, “Bild Lilli,” which was supposed to be used as a gag gift for adults (Lars). After returning to the United States, Handler began to redesign the doll and worked with a designer to help create doll clothes. Handler named the doll Barbie after her daughter, Barbara. The Barbie doll was presented to society on March 9th, 1959 at the toy fair in New York City. Within the first eight years that the Barbie doll was out on the market, Mattel sold over 500 million Barbie dolls (Ruth). Due to the success of the first Barbie doll, the second doll created soon after called Ken which was named after Handler’s son, Ken. The company originally created the Barbie doll as a source of amusement for young children (Inventor). The Barbie doll was placed in the “America’s Time Capsule,” in celebration of the Bicentennial in 1976. This decision was made in order to reveal the impact of the Barbie in society. Barbie is one of the few dolls whose image and careers change regularly according to the way our society works.

Although some people may argue that the Barbie doll is a negative influence on young girls, some people on the other hand insist that Barbie inspires young children to create their own identity. Barbie may portray the image that all women need to have a slimming body, sparkling white teeth, and can get whatever they wants by using their gorgeous looks, yet because the Barbie doll can be purchased in a variety of careers, personalities, and lifestyles. Mattel, the Barbie doll creators, are sending the message to children that they can grow up to be whatever they would like to be. Many Mattel customers will argue that the doll has no negative influence and is just a source of amusement for young girls, while others may argue that this type of amusement is affecting their children and society in general, making people think they in order to retrieve something a women wants, they need to make themselves into a human, “Barbie doll.”

The Barbie doll differentiates from other dolls that young girls play with such as “Bratz.” Although the Bratz dolls are an alternative source of entertainment for young children and may portray the same image as the Barbie doll does, the Bratz dolls are not as imaginative and inspiring as say a Barbie doll can be. For example, the Bratz dolls can be purchased having careers such as a singer, a dancer, a model, etc.; while on the other hand Barbie dolls can be purchased in careers ranging anywhere from a doctor to an astronaut. The Bratz dolls seem to be sending the message to young children that they need to grow up to be involved in fashion which is not always realistic. The Barbie image may appear to be perfect and in some cases persuade customers that they should uphold an image such as a Barbie doll, although, it inspires children of various cultures to imagine what their life would be like if they were to have various careers. The Mattel Company provides a wide variety of ethnic Barbie dolls. For example, a Barbie doll can be purchased as a Native American, Indian, and even Pakistani oppose to Bratz which can only be purchased as American or African American (Lars). Playing with a Barbie doll can be lightly compared to experimenting with a variety of careers and lifestyles. For example, although the Barbie doll can be purchased as a princess most young children realize that they will never grow up to be a princess, yet they still like imagining what they life would be like if they did. The Barbie doll provides ambition for young children to work toward a lifestyle they are happy and comfortable with for the future. The Barbie doll is an icon to the ever changing society we live in.


At that time of Barbie's creation, most children toys were dolls that took on the form of infants; if Barbie is being picked on for her stereotypical roles in her many careers, then shouldn't society be the one most blamed for this? It's not wrong for Barbie to be associated with many careers, but to a child, it may not be all the same person. Why must a child assume that Barbie is jumping to different careers when they can believe they are all separate individuals? But, say a child does assume Barbie is career-hopping... by the time she grows up, she will have figured out the implications of career-hopping, and will have by then already decided what she wants to become, career-wise, and it will more than likely be influenced by more than just a doll by the name of Barbie.

Meanwhile, everyone today pays attention to the width of her chest, waist, and hips... but since when should anyone care about what a 11 inch plastic doll looks like? People can argue about the "perfection" of her body, but people should keep in mind about how the term "perfection" has changed over the centuries, and in many parts of the world. By today's standards, the "perfect" body that the media declares a woman should look like is skinny and tall, but back in the Victorian Era, the ideal woman was a plump, full-figured woman! (C. Rebecca) Today's perfect woman would be considered ugly and unattractive in that point in time! Instead of complaining about Barbie and her body measurements for insecurities that are actually caused by society, we should reinforce the facts that it is O.K. to have a body-form different than the "perfect" body, and just be happy with who we are. (Ancedote: Barbie Doll Image)


Works Cited:

Puente, Maria. (2009, February 19). Visionary mom sold america on barbie. USA Today.

"Cindy Jackson." http://www.cindyjackson.com/. Web. 7 Apr 2011.

Hendrick, B. . (n.d.). Percentage of overweight, obese americans swells. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20100210/percentage-of-overweight-obese-americans-swells

Barbie boots up. (Nov 11, 1996). Retrieved from http://www.time.com

Nemy, Enid. "Metropolitan Diary." New York Times. (1999): p. 2.

Beauty and Body Image in the Media. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/women_and_girls/women_beauty.cfm

Barbie History. (1998-2010). http://www.billbam.com/barbiehistory.html
By: Stephanie Lia, Olivia Widen, Sebie Memishofski


Works Cited:
Inventor Ruth Handler Biography. (n.d.). The Great Idea Finder - Celebrating the Spirit of Innovation . Retrieved April 13, 2011, from http://www.ideafinder.com/history

Lars, r. (n.d.). Barbie Doll Invented. Crazy for Barbie. Retrieved April 13, 2011, from http://www.crazyforbarbie.com/inventionofbarbiedoll

Ruth Handler: Barbie Doll Invention. (n.d.). Famous Women Inventors. Retrieved April 13, 2011, from http://www.women-inventors.com/Ruth-Handler.asp
By: Katie Maloney & Kristina Kopka

Works Cited

Andrejczak, M. (2010, January 29). The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 13, 2011, from marketwatch.com: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/mattels-profit-jumps-as-holiday-sales-recoup-2010-01-29

Works Cited:

C., Rebecca. "Body Beautiful." Bodimojo. BodiMojo, n.d. Web. Retrieved April 17 2011 from Bodimojo.com http://www.bodimojo.com