Beauty standards permeate advertisements, films and other forms of media with which we interact daily. Whether our attention is focused on glorified celebrities or airbrushed models, we begin to form a specific notion as to what is considered the “ideal” physical appearance. While most women eventually experience insecurities fostered by the sexualization of women in advertisements and films, this media exposure impacts even the youngest members of our society.
For nearly fifty years, Mattel’s Barbie and a plethora of other doll brands have infiltrated the minds of young girls with the ideal—yet often unattainable—body image presented in the media. While playing with their miniature role model, girls internalize the slim figure of Barbie, whose dimensions translate to an 18 inch waist, 33 inch hips, 39 inch bust and size 3 shoe. These measurements—alarming in light of Barbie’s five foot, nine inch stature—become young children’s subconscious standard of beauty.
While these beauty standards have been prevalent for years, recent attempts to encourage body positivity are evident in campaigns like Dove’s 2004 “Campaign for Real Beauty” and the Always 2015 Superbowl commercial. Both pieces encourage women of all ages to embrace their femininity and natural beauty, thus planting the seeds for action in altering the media’s perception of women. This focus on promoting confidence in women has incited a slight change in products for young girls.
Mattel recently released a Barbie collection, aptly titled “Imagine the Possibilities,” which consists of a variety of new characters. Featuring “Doctor Barbie,” “Professor Barbie” and “Soccer Coach Barbie," the new line exposes young girls to a wealth of future careers and gives substance to their plastic friend. With a slogan of “You can be anything,” the new Barbie has the potential to inspire girls to be more than what others tell them to be.
Despite broadening the scope of Barbie’s professions, Mattel has failed to adjust the unrealistic body image that Barbie exemplifies. The dolls continue to come with a wardrobe of tight jeans and mini-skirts, rather than just lab coats and brief cases. Ultimately, the message to young girls becomes that they “can be anything” they want under the stipulation that they look good in the process.
The dolls still seem to negatively impact young girls' psyche and self-image. Rather than truly encouraging them to imagine possibilities for themselves, the Barbie line emphasizes physical attractiveness as the most important trait for women to have, even when they become successful in respectable professions.
The body image presented in the media has trickled down to even the youngest members of our society: young girls grow up idolizing cultural icons while playing with dolls that are unrealistically beautiful and thin and lack any other redeeming qualities. In order to truly promote body positivity, the physical makeup of a doll must cease to serve as a goal for young girls to strive toward. Rather, girls of all ages must be genuinely encouraged to “be anything they can” while looking however they want.