THE INFLUENCE BARBIE‟S IMAGE HAS ON BODY IMAGE AND CONSUMERISM FOR YOUNG GIRLS RUNNING HEADER: THE INFLUENCE BARBIE‟S IMAGE HAS ON BODY IMAGE AND CONSUMERISM FOR YOUNG GIRLS The Influence Barbie‟s Image Has on Body Image and Consumerism for Young Girls Submitted By: Shannon Wilson Submitted To: Dr. Roger Stahl In partial fulfillment of course requirements SPCM 2350 Rhetoric and Popular Culture, University of Georgia April 27, 2010 THE INFLUENCE BARBIE‟S IMAGE HAS ON BODY IMAGE AND 1 CONSUMERISM FOR YOUNG GIRLS Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jordan, and many others represent some of the most popular cultural icons that have existed over time in the eyes of many Americans. The word icon can be perceived in many different ways by the average American, but Mary Rogers defines an icon as being “a point of recognition widely shared with other members of one‟s society” (Rogers). Although the three famous Americans previously mentioned are real people with real accomplishments and real lives, icons are becoming more fictional than ever. The Barbie doll allows consumers to use their imagination to strive for something beyond what is realistic. Consumers create their own experiences with Barbie, which in essence gives Barbie her own iconic status with what and who she represents to her owner. Even though much of her iconic status is left to personal interpretation by the consumer, Barbie signifies many things thanks to her creators at Mattel. Barbie can virtually be anything. She has an outfit for each of the dozens of occupations she has and every activity she does. Barbie can be anything the consumer wants her to be with the change of an outfit. Girls strive to meet the measurements of Barbie, which according to a recent study, if Barbie existed in real life she would be over seven feet tall and her measurements would be 40-22-36 (Lemberg). This is drastically different than the measurements of the average American woman, and with Barbie having a limitless income, she can afford everything she would ever want; also inconsistent with the average income of Americans. Despite these circumstances, Barbie is one of the post popular icons among young girls in America, leaving this young generation of females striving to meet impossible standards. THE INFLUENCE BARBIE‟S IMAGE HAS ON BODY IMAGE AND 2 CONSUMERISM FOR YOUNG GIRLS Brenda, a young girl with a Barbie doll of her own reported, “I used to think how cool it would be to have Barbie‟s clothes, hair styles, smiles, and all her accessories. She could have anything she wanted” (Rogers). Brenda is just one example of the many girls who have been introduced to the concept of consumerism in America at a very young age. This concept has evolved into a massive part of popular culture in the United States, and is entering American lives at younger ages each year. For young girls and pre-teens, Barbie is the “ultimate consumer,” representing a model for a shopper in American society and the importance of materialistic features and possessions. The fact that children are introduced to the world of consumption and consumerism at such a young age is not necessarily a positive thing. Barbie advertisements are targeted towards young consumers, and her endless wardrobe, vehicles, houses, and everything else that comes with Barbie leads children on to believe that they too will be able to have everything. According to an article which discusses the effect advertising has on children, "young children have difficulty distinguishing between advertising and reality in ads, and ads can distort their view of the world" (Special Issues for Young Children). Barbie‟s “lavish lifestyle” and the advertisements regarding her, distorts children‟s view of reality and misleads them to believe that Barbie and her lifestyle actually exists and is the ideal way to live. Barbie‟s figure and features also distort the view of reality for young girls. As stated earlier, Barbie‟s proportions are unrealistic, and her measurements are not humanly possible. Having a Barbie doll gives girls the impression that they need to look like her, giving them a goal to strive to be when they grow up. Barbie‟s body THE INFLUENCE BARBIE‟S IMAGE HAS ON BODY IMAGE AND 3 CONSUMERISM FOR YOUNG GIRLS also never changes. She will always wear the same size and her proportions will always be idealistic, which also adds to the problems she causes in the minds of young, preteen, girls whose bodies are constantly changing. Statistics have shown that two Barbie dolls are sold every second in the world, and the average American girl owns ten (Barbie Body Image). It‟s safe to say that most girls play with Barbie, and spend a substantial amount of time looking at her features. Spending a long time with something will without a doubt have an impact and an influence on the consumer, and that‟s exactly what is happening with Barbie. There have been several instances of young girls developing eating disorders and struggling with their weight due to the impact Barbie has had on their perception of body image. It is estimated that anorexia and bulimia effect more than 36 million people in the United States, and this statistic is not helped by Barbie entering the lives of most young girls in America (Eating Disorders Real Life Story – Teen Creates „Real Barbie‟ to Fight Eating Disorders). In a recent study, a total of 162 girls between the ages of five and eight were exposed either to Barbie images, a different doll, or no doll at all. The participants then completed an assessment of body image. The results of the study showed that, “Girls exposed to Barbie reported lower body esteem and greater desire for a thinner body shape than girls in the other exposure conditions” (Ive, Suzanne). This study is relevant because it shows that Barbie‟s image does impact the perception of body image for young girls, and shows the struggle that forms when girls own their first Barbie. The first Barbie was launched by Mattel in 1959. Since then, society and culture has changed drastically, and although Barbie continues to attract young THE INFLUENCE BARBIE‟S IMAGE HAS ON BODY IMAGE AND 4 CONSUMERISM FOR YOUNG GIRLS girls of today, other dolls have emerged into the market and also influence this young demographic. In 2001, the Bratz dolls were launched and represent a more sexualized product, introducing young consumers into a world of more provocative dolls. An article on this doll was written entitled “From Bratz Dolls to Boob Jobs,” describing how this newer phenomenon is influencing young girls to dress more outrageous with more revealing clothes. Just as Barbie has been affecting the body image of preteen females, the Bratz dolls are influencing their clothing styles and introducing girls to revealing clothes and a more scandalous lifestyle at a very young age. The article describes the dolls as having “curvaceous figures, oversized heads and big lips. And they encourage sexuality in pre-teen girls” (M.G., Durham). These dolls are a visual of how American society has changed and evolved since the original Barbie was introduced in the fifties, and it shows what exactly is influencing the next generation of young adults. Barbie has been enjoyed by young females across America for decades, and continues to have an effect on their body image and consumer habits. The average American girl has a Barbie and spends a substantial amount of time playing with her. Undoubtedly Barbie‟s image is going to have an influence on her consumers, and with the evolution of more modernized dolls like the Bratz figures, their effect on young girls has taken a new turn into a more sexualized environment. This leaves questions about what the future holds for the next generation of young girls, and what direction advertising will take the next launched product directed towards this demographic. Advertisements aimed towards children will continue to distort the image of what is real and what is not. If trends in the advertisement industry THE INFLUENCE BARBIE‟S IMAGE HAS ON BODY IMAGE AND 5 CONSUMERISM FOR YOUNG GIRLS continue in the same direction they are going they will continue to create consumers at even younger ages, and have major effects on greater issues in addition to body image and consumerism for children. THE INFLUENCE BARBIE‟S IMAGE HAS ON BODY IMAGE AND 6 CONSUMERISM FOR YOUNG GIRLS Works Cited "Barbie Body Image." Http://www.teen-beauty-tips.com/barbie-body-image.html. Web. "Eating Disorders Real Life Story ? Teen Creates ?Real Barbie? to Fight Eating Disorders." Http://www.helpstartshere.org/mind-and-spirit/eating- disorders/eating-disorders-real-life-story.html. Web. Ive, Suzanne, Helga Dittmar, and Emma Halliwell. Does Barbie Make Girls Want to Be Thin? The Effect of Experimental Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5- to 8-year-old Girls. American Psychological Association, Mar. 2006. Web Lemberg, Raymond, and Leigh Cohn. Eating Disorders: a Reference Sourcebook. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx, 1999. Print. "Lolita Lives." Promo 1 June 2007. Penton Media. Web. M.G., Durham. From Bratz Dolls to Boob Jobs: A Guide to Dealing with the New Sexualized Childhood. University of Iowa. Print. Rogers, Mary Frances. Barbie Culture. London: Sage Publ., 1999. Print. "Special Issues for Young Children." Http://www.media- awareness.ca/english/parents/marketing/issues_kids_marketing.cfm. Web.
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