The Barbie Fallacy

I like shoes.

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.