Over the past one hundred years, the media has been overflowed with stories of how women dress, their shape and size, the exposing of their body and the value of women based on their bodies. The female body has been capitalized by brands selling ‘necessary’ products for women, and feminine energy has become a way for the wealthy to gain more money, despite only six to seven percent of women making up CEO decisions. When it comes to economic and cultural values, the female body is framed by the male mind. 

Back in the late 1950s, cultural phenomenon, the Barbie doll was introduced to the world for young girls to play with and become inspired by during one’s youth. Although the doll was created by a woman, it became an introduction for the male gaze, dictating how women’s bodies should look. 

In a Time Magazine article, Barbie biographer and writer Elaina Dockterman gave a statement about the most sought-after doll during the 1950s.

“Barbie is more than just a doll. The brand does $1 billion in sales across more than 150 countries annually and 92% of American girls ages 3 to 12 have owned a Barbie, thanks in part to her affordable $10 price tag,” Dockterman said. “She’s been the global symbol of a certain kind of American beauty for generations, with brand recognition that’s up there with Mickey Mouse. M.G. Lord. Barbie teaches women that—for better or worse—is expected of them in society.” 

Although the old design of Barbie fit the time of extreme beauty standards in the 1950s, the doll was centered around women being able to do anything in the world. Since there has been a lot of backlash from the original thin, blonde Barbie look, creators have made more varied body shapes. The dolls have become more inclusive so that young generations can see how real bodies look. However, the original unachievable Barbie body still affects the perception of how women’s bodies ‘should’ be.

Ruth Handler, the creator and CEO of Barbie, created the doll with Mattel Inc. to demonstrate that young girls can pursue their dreams with Barbies that are astronauts, doctors, lawyers, business owners and more. At the time of its creation, women were isolated to the strict gender roles of the housewife and mother during the 1950s, when the nuclear family was created. The nuclear family is characterized as a father who is often the breadwinner, a mother with the job of keeping the household and their children. 

The nuclear family designated domestic responsibilities to women, while men pursued careers for financial stability of the family. This dynamic helped catapulte the feminist movements in the 1960s for female empowerment in the economic and political zones of society. The Barbie was a reaction to the forced gender roles being put on by the U.S. government through propaganda to promote this ideal family and helped the country stimulate more children being born and jobs being created after World War II.

Although Barbie took action in changing gender roles, Barbies did not actually represent authentic female bodies. The Barbie only came as a white woman with an unachievable body. This excluded women of different races who were also representatives for women’s rights and feminism, such as in the 1960s civil rights and feminist movements. This exclusion gave the undertone that Barbie was for the white “‘feminist’’  and did not give the same credit, opportunities or representation to women of color. 

“All barbies have hourglass shapes and this is the ideal body shape. The only variation is the skin color (only recently) and face,” senior Anna Grant said. “It created a standard for how a woman should look, and as a kid, I saw it and compared myself and about how I couldn’t look like that.”

In 1968, Christie, Barbie’s friend, was introduced as the first African American doll. Then, in 1980, the first official African American Barbie was released at the same time as a Latina Barbie. Over time, Barbie has expanded from limited demographics to dolls that have medium-sized bodies and different cultural backgrounds. However, the effect of the “Barbie body” still has its lasting effects due to its role as the leading doll for young girls throughout the past seven decade. Many of the more accurate body types that are being produced are to try to counteract some of the consequences of the past body designs.

“It’s a massive risk for Mattel… The company hopes that the new dolls, with their diverse body types, along with the new skin tones and hair textures introduced last year, will more closely reflect their young owners’ world. But the initiative could also backfire—if it’s not too late altogether,” Dockterman said. “Adding three new body types now is sure to irritate someone: just picking out the terms petite, tall and curvy and translating them into dozens of languages without causing offense, took months.”

The slow diversification of Barbie came from large amounts of backlash regarding the lack of representation which gives the impression that the company did not create these dolls to represent women in any realistic standard. The brand seems to have marketed off of women’s desire to achieve more; however, this worsened the existing body shaming and racism through the dolls’ representation. Although the brand was known to show representation of women in different careers, the dolls gave off the impression that to be a successful woman, one had to also have an unhealthily perfect body type. Altogether, the brand’s strides towards inclusivity seem to be forced consequences of how people are viewing beauty and equality in more accepting ways, as the brand fails to be more inclusive freely. 

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