Debunking Barbie’s Beauty Standards

By Alexis Wolfer

Monday, Kim Culmone, vice president of design for Barbie at Mattel (in an interview with Fast Company) defended Barbie’s unrealistic, often-criticized, and highly dangerous body proportions by arguing that her body shape and size is necessary “for real life fabrics to be able to be turned and sewn, and have the outfit still fall properly on her body.”

Seriously, if Barbie were truly “life sized,” she would be 5’9”, weigh 110 pounds (fitting the criteria for anorexia), have a staggering 39” bust and a practically non-existent 18” waist. Her feet would be a teeny-tiny size 3. Even calling this “life-sized” is a misnomer, since Barbie would be incapable of life as we know it: she would be required to walk on all-fours because her balance would be so off and she wouldn’t be able to hold up her own head with her twice-as-long-as-normal neck.

Mattel can figure out how to make plastic dolls with enormous breasts and miniscule feet stand, yet they can’t seem to figure out a way to “turn and sew” clothing options for a healthier proportioned body?!

I’m not buying it.

The larger problem here, though, is not so much in the absurdity of this statement, but also in its profound danger.

First, let’s be clear here. We’re not just talking about a doll. Barbie has permeated our culture in such a profound way that she has become an iconic standard for beauty, establishing the framework through which both women and men understand beauty. Two Barbie dolls are sold every second in the world, with the average girl acquiring her first Barbie by age 3 and collecting seven Barbies during her childhood. Young girls learn to aspire to and emulate Barbie’s beauty and body, and boys learn to desire it. The breadth and depth of Barbie’s influence alone make her unrealistic standards dangerous.

Furthermore, with her statement, Culmone diminishes Barbie (and the women Barbie purports to represent: the doctor, pilot, teacher, and more) to nothing more than hangers for their clothes.

Sadly, this is an argument I’ve heard many times  throughout my career in the fashion/beauty world, with regard to real women’s bodies.

Designers claim that their runway models are (like Barbie) merely clothes hangers for displaying their designs, minimizing women to the status of a cleverly twisted wire. Those same clothes are then sent to fashion shoots where print models (who weren’t historically held to the same wire-hanger body standard) struggle to fit into these fashions. In turn, fashion editors are “required” to book thinner models to fit into these clothes so they “fall properly.” Now, these thinner models are photographed (and often airbrushed to appear even more impossibly thin – Barbie-like, if you will) and end up in our monthly glossies where we, as consumers, are sold not only the clothes on their bodies but also this conceived standard of beauty.

So, Mattel, want to rethink that statement (and then give Barbie – and her clothes – a much-needed body-makeover)?

First published on SheRights.