The Barbie Fallacy

Boys are trained from the time that they’re small that they’re “little men.” Blue, bikes, blocks and shoot-em-up. Boys are strong, good at sports, not squeamish and they definitely shouldn’t cry. If they just “man up” eventually, they’ll grow chest hair and large gleaming testicles.

Girls are trained from the time we’re little girls to be little girls. Pink, princesses, tea parties and dolls. Tall, thin and pretty is where it’s at. It’s good to have an education to fall back on in case you don’t get married and make babies right away.

Unfortunately gender segregation is not shamefully hidden in the past. It is still going on. I just took this screen cap from a major American toy seller’s website.

Picture 3

Choose one: Boys’ Toys or Girls’ Toys. There is no middle ground. Why can’t it be Cool Toys and Amazing Toys? Toys are rad!

What happens to the little men and princesses who don’t fit the mold? What about the boys like my friends’ four year old son who enjoys wearing a tutu because it makes him feel pretty? His parents don’t force gender roles on him. They would never tell him to “man up” or stop “crying like a girl.” He’s encouraged in whatever he wants to do and he will surely succeed. He’s lucky to have parents like that, but what about the boys who don’t?

What about the princesses who cannot and should not risk their health to live up to the idealized standard of beauty fobbed on us by some clothing manufacturers and makeup companies? There is no accounting for the fact that the vast majority women aren’t shaped like supermodels and couldn’t be, even if they starved themselves. Barbie and supermodels are not a healthy role models.

Israel passed a law in January that models must have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of at least 18.5, meaning that this is now criminal:



If Mattel’s iconic fifty-four year old Barbie doll was human, she might be considered anorexic based on her BMI of between 16.24 and 17.8. In any event, she’d be too thin to model in Israel. From the Barbie wiki:

In 1963, the outfit “Barbie Baby-Sits” came with a book entitled How to Lose Weight which advised: “Don’t eat!.” The same book was included in another ensemble called “Slumber Party” in 1965 along with a pink bathroom scale permanently set at 110 lbs.,which would be around 35 lbs. underweight for a woman 5 feet 9 inches tall.

That’s quite the role model indeed. What are we teaching our daughters by giving them an anorexic doll? What are we doing to our sons by fostering that as a standard of what they should find attractive? We are making them feel abnormal if they deviate from the norm, but the norm is absolutely untenable.

Even some of us who do look like Barbie, those of us who are tall, thin and pretty don’t feel that way. I never did and I still don’t. I’m 5’9″ and blonde like Barbie. I don’t know a single person who couldn’t come up with something they don’t like about themselves.

I wonder if it’s always been that way. When we were still living in caves and didn’t have mirrors, did our ancient ancestors glimpse their reflection in a pond and think they looked fat? I don’t think they did. If anything, they were probably too skinny.

There used to be a time when pleasantly plump was the height of attractiveness. Just over 500 years ago, Raphael painted this as the ideal female form:

The Three Graces, Raphael, 1504 Image from wiki.paintings.

The Three Graces, Raphael, 1505
Image from wiki.paintings.

It certainly wasn’t the female form that changed; it was society’s molding of it into a thinner, less shapely form. This kind of perception shift is dangerous. It means that women will attempt to live up to a standard that is unrealistic for all but a few. It means that men are trained to find that thinner version attractive.

I say stop trying to be a supermodel. I say we should all try to be happy in our own skin and celebrate our differences. Let boys be boys or girls. Let’s celebrate tomboys again. Let the genders blend and bend. Stop trying to attain an unattainable standard. Learn to love yourself. Let’s all relax and loosen our belts.

There are 64 comments

  1. rarasaur

    Toys ARE awesome. I’ve actually written a letter to Toys R Us to ask for a re-categorization. They say they do it to make their customer’s lives easier, most of whom are looking for specific types of toys. It’s a vicious circle!


      1. rarasaur

        Yep, I wrote my letter when I couldn’t find the remote control dino-toy I was looking for, and even their little “helpful” catalog didn’t help… until I realized that I had to dig deep within the “boy toys” category. Lame!

        My D-Rex was my favorite, and I went out of my way to buy it from someone who didn’t call it a boy toy.


  2. 1jaded1

    It really is disturbing how this is perpetuated. I forget what Barbie’s stats were, but I think a 17 inch waist was one of them.

    At my lowest weight it hurt to be in bed or sit on a hard chair. In my case, it wasn’t even about the models. I just wanted to disappear.


    1. goldfish

      The fact that Barbie is still around is kind or telling. Not only is she unreasonably skinny, but everything she owns is pink.

      I understand the wanting to disappear. I was the same way.


  3. Rose Colored Photo

    I realize that much of what you wrote was rhetorical – but I’m going to answer anyway.
    What changed? Well beauty has always been something that is difficult to achieve – that’s what makes it desirable. When rounded limbs and soft bodies where considered the standard of beauty the average person, the common man, the majority of the western culture had little food and a lot of hard work. Figures like what we now consider to be beautiful were far more common. Skin tanned from the sun, figure lean from lack of food, limbs hard due to manual labor.
    To have the desirable figure one had to stay out of the sun, have plenty to eat, and have less physical work to do. Look at any culture where large figures are desirable and you will find a culture that has to work hard for food.
    Beauty and wealth go hand in hand. Now to have evenly tanned skin you must have the time to do nothing but lay in the sun and change your skin tone, or to use a tanning bed. So you must have enough leisure time to tan and in many cases have the funds to pay for a tanning salon. With sedentary lifestyles the overabundance of processed food that is filled with calories and preservatives maintaining a slim figure requires enough money to buy fresh food, go to the store often enough to maintain that supply, enough time to prepare this food as well. It also often requires time devoted to nothing but physical activity aimed at maintaining a slim figure. So again you have the combination of leisure time and wealth.
    Now I won’t say that body dysmorphia was a large problem in cultures that idealized round limbs due to most people not having enough food. After all they had much bigger issues. And our current culture needs to have a lot fixed. But I think it is relevant to recognize why we find those things attractive.


  4. C.K. Hope

    I was and still am a Tomboy. I had Tonka Trucks and matchbox cars. I also had a couple Barbie’s, I painted their hair blue and made them “work clothes” so they could drive the Tonka Trucks (we’re talking mid-70s, before Barbie had much besides ballroom gowns and aprons). My girls got whatever toys they wanted, my son did as well — I have pictures of the boy-child in a tutu dancing around, he’s 21 now the tutu didn’t “hurt” him. Even in fast food places if they see your child they don’t ask if you want the boy or girl “meal”, they just serve the meal of the sex they see. I always have to make them switch it out for my 8 year old, she doesn’t like the princess toys, she wants the superheroes.

    On the body image thing, I’m skinny. Not thin. Too skinny, partly my perception, partly based in fact. I always have been. I’ve been picked on since childhood for it, nicknames like Bones and Twiggy, told to “eat a sandwich once in awhile” constantly. Basically made to feel unattractive my entire life. I’m 5′ 2″ and currently weigh 108. I have gained 10lbs in the last two years and no one gets how proud I am of that fact, how hard it was to achieve. Instead I get mocked and made to feel like an idiot for thinking that’s an achievement. My system doesn’t process food properly, some it doesn’t process at all, like animal fats (they build up as toxins, make me sick and cause me to lose weight. My doctors finally figured that one out a few years ago; hence cutting out animal fats = no more sickness and less weight loss). I have to consume twice the calories a day than someone my size should have to, just to maintain. To gain, I have to consume even more. Honestly I hate food sometimes, I see it as the enemy. I get so tired of people telling me they’d kill to have my problem. No they wouldn’t, I’ve wound up in the hospital because of it, two years ago it almost killed me, it’s not fun. It certainly isn’t desirable, nor is it healthy. I have a messed up system and I hate being skinny. I’d love to be just as “perfect” as everyone else wants to be. Body image really does affect all of us, I wish it didn’t.


    1. Melanie

      Wow. My body has given me the big ol middle finger on food too. I’m skinny and I get people telling me all the time that they hate me because I’m skinny. I eat often because I have to or I get sick, and yet I never gain a significant amount of weight. That’s not my fault. I simply cannot, other than when I was pregnant. Yet I am regularly pointed at as the image of the reason so many people have eating disorders. I’ll take responsibility if I’ve done something wrong, but in this case, I haven’t. I’m not skinny because I haven’t eaten in a year, I’m skinny because my body burns food like an incinerator. Believe me, in this day in age, I’d prefer to be overweight to underweight.


      1. C.K. Hope

        I love the internet! You are the only other person I have ever (kind of) spoken to who has the same issue (obviously I don’t get out much haha)! I hate the whole being pointed at as the reason for eating disorders, I can’t stand being compared to a heroin addict (what the hell is that about anyhow?), I truly dislike being made to feel guilty for eating more than a salad one minute then being told to eat a sandwich the next. Somehow it seems to be defeating the purpose to shame one body shape while trying to get others to stop shaming the other. Sometimes in conversations with family and friends about this subject, when I agree with them on a point and get slammed for being unable to grasp their feelings and then snarked at for my skinniness I just want to shake them and yell, “You’re doing to me what you don’t want done to you! You’re dismissing me, shaming me into guilt for genetics, making me feel “less than”!”


    2. goldfish

      I didn’t touch on that because I don’t have any experience with it, but I have friends who do. A friend of mine is nearly 6′ tall and is a stick figure. No matter what she does, she can’t gain weight. People look down on her for starving herself until they see her eat. It’s just as dangerous as being obese and it’s certainly not your fault. We should all quit judging each other.


      1. C.K. Hope

        Exactly Goldfish! I hope I didn’t give the impression I was saying I felt your post was one-sided, because I didn’t think it was. I could identify with the body image issue, the weight issue, shaming … I was throwing my “piece” as it were, into the conversation because I feel maybe the “skinny” peeps need to speak up too, to bring in the fact that it does affect us as. I don’t think the whole “body image” thing will change if women themselves are infighting, so-to-speak.


        1. goldfish

          Agreed. And yes, the skinny people need to speak up, too. It’s not like the overweight are the only people who are judged. We all are to some extent. You can’t judge someone based on their weight. There are usually a lot of factors and only one of them is what we eat.


  5. Daile

    Have you seen the woman that have tried to look like Barbie? And how disproportionate their bodies are? No wonder there is a false ideal when Barbie herself wouldn’t be able to stand up if she were a real life person.
    We should be encouraging Toy stores and parents to blur the boundaries of ‘gender appropriate’ toys. Boy should be able to play with dolls and girls with trucks if they want to without discrimination


  6. draliman

    I don’t know if you saw it a while back in the news, but there’s a Ukrainian woman who’s had loads of plastic surgery to actually *look* like Barbie – if you Google “real life Barbie” you’ll find her. It is SO spooky and pretty yucky.

    I totally agree with everything you said.
    It’s all about society’s perception of the ideal, in my opinion. For example, a couple of hundred years ago in England, lily white skin (for women anyway) was preferred. More recently it was a “healthy” tan. Now I think things are beginning to switch back again.

    Anthropologically I think it’s all based on the current perception of health, wealth, strength, child-bearing potential etc. Currently it seems to be about companies creating the ideal man/woman and telling us we’re not, but we could be – just buy this amazing new product!


    1. goldfish

      That woman is disgusting. I’m not a huge fan of plastic surgery for anything other than medical procedures. I’ve had plastic surgery before. I had a skin cancer and they did plastic surgery so it wouldn’t scar. It still scarred.

      When I was a kid, it was all about tanning. My sister, with her fair Nordic skin, would lather herself out and “lay out” in the sun for hours. I never bothered because i don’t care what is in. Yet, I’m the one who got skin cancer… go figure.

      The funny thing is, if it’s about what’s considered healthy and childbearing, Barbie would be too skinny to even menstruate.


  7. No Blog Intended

    With all these ‘all shapes’ campaign, which are good, I want to add something that people seem to forget about at times. I mean, everyone should feel good about their body, and anorexic is not good, of course. But everyone seems to fight for the image of women being a curvy woman, not tall. Let’s just not forget that there are also women who are slender and tall, right? People sometimes tell me I look like a model, but when this ‘campaign’ starts to be almost against women looking like models, I start to feel uncomfortable as well.
    I don’t mean to say this post upset me, but let’s just keep in mind that every woman has the right to feel good about herself, even when she looks like a supermodel.


    1. goldfish

      Everyone should feel good about their body. Period. I’m sorry if I upset you, that was not my intention since I actually relate to your comment more than the others. I’ve gotten the model thing a lot, especially when I was young. I’m fortunate enough to be tall, thin and proportionate. I have BDD though, so I don’t see myself that way. I hate how these “ideals” are shoved down our throats.


      1. No Blog Intended

        No no, you didn’t upset me, I just wanted to add this comment before it would be forgotten.
        BDD is hard, you can tell people they’re beautiful as much as you want but they’ll think you just say that to be nice… Because they are friends or family, they have to be nice… It’s hard to look beyond what you see. I hope you’ll see your real beauty one day, and if not, at least know you’re a great writer.


  8. Doggy's Style

    Great post Goldie.
    The gender segregation is disgusting to say the least, little kids don’t know any better, the “this is for girls” and “this if for boys” at such an early age it’s totally unnecessary and confusing.
    Growing up I always wanted robots, cars and stuff like that “boy toys”, my brother wanted a kitchen (as seen on tv) my parents got the kitchen. Guess what, I’m the gay one my brother the straight, those things make no difference on who you are.
    As for the “perfect” body, society is the one to blame, society has poisoned the women’s brain, it’s sad to see women look down on other women just because they do not fit the “mold”, makes me sick.


    1. goldfish

      I really hate that it’s still sorted by girls’ and boys’ toys. I had a real problem with that when I was a kid and it annoys me to no end that it’s still that way. The toys we play with do not change who we are.


  9. Mental Mama

    I prefer not to think of myself as “fat” – I just think I was born in the wrong century. There was a time (I think when Raphael was painting) that fat was the preferred way for a woman to look because it meant her husband, or father, was wealthy enough to feed her properly.


    1. goldfish

      As long as your weight isn’t unhealthy, we should all embrace who we are.

      Of course, I am the pot calling the kettle black here, since I still can’t really do that. But I try!


      1. Mental Mama

        According to the whole BMI bullshit, I’m way fat. But my blood pressure is great, my cholesterol is fine, and I’m not even pre-diabetic. I’ve been wearing the same size clothes since I was 20 years old. I think my body is pretty well used to being this size.


  10. evilsquirrel13

    With four younger sisters and not a lot of money to go around, I got stuck playing with a lot of girls toys and had to learn to like it. And lookie today…. I draw colorful cartoon squirrels and unicorns, and enjoy doing it! Who needs Transformers?


  11. aliciabenton

    Wow – I had no idea about that Israeli law. That’s brilliant, and we should learn from them.

    My son loves getting a good laugh by putting my bikini tops on himself. But he can still throw a football like a damn NFL quarterback. He’s okay. And normal.

    Great post.


  12. ardenrr

    Great post! I used to be embarrassed by my weight until I learned about the BMI index and realized I was right where I needed to be. I’m 5’11” and weigh around 150 which used to horrify me. It was so nice to get that explanation saying I would be sick if I weighed what society thinks you should weigh.

    Also, I never really liked barbies. I played with dinosaurs :) RAWR!


    1. goldfish

      Sometimes I think the BMI is bullshit since it doesn’t really take your frame into account. You’re 2 inches taller than me and weigh about the same. I have a very thick skeleton; I’ve never broken a bone. My best friend is the same height as me and she weighs considerably less since her skeleton is very dainty.

      This is exactly why I don’t weigh myself. I know just by how my clothes fit.


  13. sortaginger

    I find it funny that when I was 135 and a size four to six that would be considered fat by more people’s standards today than just my own at the time (I am also 5′ 9″).

    I preferred Legos over Barbie. I remember when I did play with them it involved cutting Barbie’s hair off, using glitter glue to make it punk-rock and some scandalous smooching with my brother’s GI Joe dolls…er, action figures.


  14. rebekkastarfish

    Totally agree on the body image part. A while ago I wrote an essay for class on the connection between exessively gendered toys, early sexualisation and rape culture. If I get around I’ll post the corrected version one of these days on my blog.


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