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                   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

       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

       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

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

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

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.
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                                   Works Cited

"Barbie Body Image." Http://


"Eating Disorders Real Life Story ? Teen Creates ?Real Barbie? to Fight Eating

       Disorders." Http://

       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:// Web.

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