the HAES® files: You Great Big Beautiful Doll!

by Health At Every Size® Blog

by Deah Schwartz, Ed.D, CTRS, CCC

TRIGGER WARNING:  If you follow the links provided in this post, you will see some disturbing images of women trying to morph themselves into real life Barbie Dolls.

ASDAH would not even exist if it weren’t for the members.  And certainly the ASDAH blog wouldn’t be possible because all of the regular and guest bloggers have to be members in order to post.  Once in a while, we open up our blog to both the members who may not have the time or inclination to submit a full, fleshed out blog post, and all of the readers who may have a little something they want to say about a topic that is “trending” in the media.  This is one of those occasions. We invite all of you to throw in your two cents about the latest flurry of news involving the iconic, infamous, leggy piece of plastic we all know as Barbie. Barbie has made it into the news over the past few months for three reasons:

  1. Two real live women made headlines when they let the world know that their goal in life was to become a living Barbie Doll.  One explained her strategy was to become as vacuous and unintelligent as possible while the other is devoted to becoming a breatharian in order to emulate Barbie’s whiter than white skin tone and skinny body proportions.
  2. Sports Illustrated joined forces with Mattel, maker of Barbie to include the doll in their world renowned annual Swimsuit Issue.
  3. A young male entrepreneur started a “Crowdfunding” campaign in order to offer a more realistically proportioned doll for kids to play with.  The Lammily Doll is being advertised as “fit and strong” with measurements  that are more typical of an “average” 19-year-old woman.

Because ASDAH is so devoted to exploring and addressing issues related to body diversity and body image among boys, girls, women, and men, this Barbie Barrage in the media is difficult to ignore.  The variety of different points of view is pretty compelling and can be found in newspapers and zines from The Huffington Post to The New York Times.  We have provided links to a variety of articles should you wish to get up to speed on what is out there, but the questions we are asking you are:

  •  What role do dolls play in body image development?
  • What do you think about a children’s toy being used in a historically adult male magazine?
  • Is it a positive step to have a doll like Lammily or is it just another way that women are objectified?

Please note, these questions do NOT represent the opinions of ASDAH’s blog committee.  They are taken from a sampling of the articles listed in this post. The blog committee does, however, hope that there will be a lively and interactive discussion by anyone out there who has something to say.  And while you are mulling all of this over, we offer you this for your listening pleasure!

Photo-Deah1-211x300Deah Schwartz, Ed.D, CTRS, CCC, Educator, Activist, and Clinician with a private practice in Oakland CA, has more than 30 years of experience in using Expressive Arts Therapies to treat Eating Disorders and Body Image issues. Deah is the co-author of Leftovers, The Ups and Downs of a Compulsive Eater DVD/Workbook Set, a resource for Eating Disorders, and author of the Size Acceptance syndicated blog, Tasty Morsels. She’s also a member of the HAES Blog committee. To find out more about Dr. Deah’s work, visit her website at www.drdeah.com.

11 Comments to “the HAES® files: You Great Big Beautiful Doll!”

  1. For some reason I never felt that Barbie ever represented a realistic look at women. I was much more affected by my mother’s negative attitude to her own appearance.

    As for the swimsuit issue, I’ve never much cared for it. I remember getting into a disagreement with a male teacher who said he liked to look at it and imagine his wife in the swimsuits. I couldn’t adequately express why I had a problem with a whole issue dedicated to women (no men!) in swimsuits. Putting Barbie in just seems like a logical extension.

    The two women just seem like they have problems. If it wasn’t Barbie, I suspect it would be something else. I’m worried the Breatharian will end up killing herself.

    I like the idea of a more average proportioned doll. I also want disabled dolls, ethnically diverse dolls, a variety of sized dolls and anything else that will let girls or boys have the option to choose a doll that appeals to them or makes them feel like they are represented. I also want Legos to go back to being unisex and for the ‘pink aisle’ do die a sudden death.

  2. As a child I had Barbie dolls (never did want a Ken doll -boring!) and I made all kinds of clothes for her and loved palying with her – especially when my older sister and I would play together with her dolls too. Never once do I remember thinking of Barbie as being an example of a “real” woman however, or wishing to emulate her in the years when I made attempts to re-shape my own body. I credit that to both my parent’s attitudes and the fact that I also loved to make clothes for and play with trolls – even more than Barbie. I mean, they could stand up on their own without high-heels, and they were reasonably priced so I could have several of them, and their solid, squarish little bodies were so MUCH easier to sew for. And that bright orange hair – WOW!

    Seriously, what I really care about is how parents communicate with their children about who/what Barbie is. I wonder if the mother who is mentioned in the Slate article about the new Lammily doll, whose daughter said the Iranian alternatives “Sara and Dara are ugly and fat”, took that as an opportunity to challenge the body disparagement and weight bias in he daughter’s comment? Likely not, but this is where the creation of a doll to go head-to-head with Barbie and all the resultant publicity and discussion surrounding her, is, in and of itself, a potentially valuable thing. Any opportunity to discuss the fact that Barbie’s body type is an “impossible standard” and to provide adults a chance to educate their kids about sizeism and stigma may just be worth creating.

    • I loved trolls much more than Barbies. :) I also really liked my Julia doll, based on the Diahann Carroll TV character, more than my other Barbies.

      • @Dana and Lusciouswords I had troll dolls too, but we called them Wishniks…was that a New York thing? And I had a Julia doll too! Because my mom’s name was Julia! Was that show as good as I remember it?

      • I wonder if Wishniks was a particular variety of troll dolls. I just remember letting them run around in the nude and doing whatever I could to make the hair go crazy. :)

        I don’t remember the show, but my Julia doll was my favorite of my Barbies, even after I butchered her hair with a home haircut. LOL

  3. May I recommend Cordelia Fine’s book Delusions of Gender? It is amazing how subtle messages are given and received with no conscious perception. Just having women specifying their sex at the top of an exam page affects their scores. And the messages in the Barbie/Girl Scout connection are hardly subtle.

    I LOVED troll dolls!

  4. I think the Sports mag cover of Barbie is a clear illustration that at least the editors of the mag see women in the same way as they see the doll: an object. I’ve been interested in the findings of a study reported in the Times that playing with Barbie DOES negatively impact on very young girls’ perception of their own body. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1083049.ece – makes interesting reading and thinking!

  5. As a boy, my parents would have been perplexed if I had played with Barbie dolls! But seriously, as a size acceptance activist and amateur sociologist of the rankest kind, I always assumed Barbie’s unrealistically slender figure had to be responsible for contaminating the body images of millions of girls. However, I have met enough Barbie devotees, who are now adults and are also very accepting of their non-Barbie figures, to conclude that they were no more contaminated by Barbie than I might have fruitlessly aspired to become an astronaut just because I liked to play with toys shaped like rocket ships. When you grow up, eventually real aspirations kick in, and almost every other fatphobic aspect of our culture becomes far more important than Barbie could be.

    However, it took a few years and some arm-twisting by Barbie fans for me to change my opinion!

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