I'm Thrilled About The New Barbie -- But Not Everyone Is

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
Thiago Melo / Getty Images

If you grew up in the ‘80s like I did, you probably remember spending hours upon hours making Mario jump up and hit the mushroom with his head and then disappear down pipes into another world. You also likely dreamed of a LiteBrite, a Cabbage Patch Kid, and probably a Teddy Ruxpin.

But for many ’80s kids, like me, the toy that dominated all other toys was Barbie.

Barbie Dream Store, Barbie Dream House, and Barbie Dream Car were on every wishlist. There was Malibu Beach Barbie, Wedding Day Barbie, Princess Barbie, and of course, Punk Rock Barbie. We wanted them all, and coveted the time at our friends’ houses where they had Ken dolls too so we could make them go on dates and get married.

Barbie ruled the world for lots of girls back then, and still does today. And while she allowed kids to use their imaginations and live out their dreams and fantasies through pretend play, which is a pivotal part of childhood, she didn’t exactly set the best example for little girls like me—at least not physically.

But thankfully, that seems to have changed.

It’s no secret the original Barbie had a body type that was unrealistic—I dare say, impossible. No one, like NO ONE, naturally has that big of a chest, that tiny of a waist, and that perfectly round butt. Yet this was the ideal we saw everyday. And Disney princesses of our childhood didn’t help much either. It’s only just recently that we’ve seen female leads like Moana who actually represent the body type so many girls and women are likely to have.

Now that I’m a grown woman, I’ve come to realize the impact that these “ideals” had on my childhood self-esteem and the way I looked at myself. Do I honestly think Barbie really messed me up as a kid? I’m not sure. But here’s what I do know.

I do know that by age 13 I started thinking I was fat and hated that I didn’t have boobs. In reality, I was a late bloomer and only 100 pounds. I do know that through high school, although I was thin, I constantly thought about food, what I ate, how many calories were in it, and how to burn it off. I do know that, like lots of college freshmen, I gained the “freshman 15” and came home that summer to ridicule. When I went back to work at my old high school job after my first college year, my douchebag boss pinched my side and said, “Someone’s put on a few pounds at college.” I stopped eating that day and lost all 15 pounds plus some that summer.

I do know that I struggle every day to like what I see in the mirror, and that my struggle is now 25 years in the running.

And I do know that girls often don’t know how this constant flood of images that show unattainable ideals of beauty affect their psyche—at least not until they are older.

Can I completely blame Barbie? Or Cinderella? Or Ariel from The Little Mermaid? Probably not, as my own issues are mine to fix.

But now that I’m a mom to three impressionable kids, am I going to celebrate the shit out of dolls and characters with healthy, realistic body types? Fuck yeah I am.

And that’s just what I did on social media recently, with this image.

My caption read “A friend shared this image of the Barbie her daughter received for Christmas. WELL. DONE. Barbie.🙌🙌🙌.” (And yes, this is an actual Mattel Barbie, BTW.) After posting, I walked away from social media for a bit that day to tend to life stuff, but later came back to a comment thread that damn-near did me in. Comments like “Good job promoting obesity!” and “This doll is an unhealthy weight” absolutely shocked me.

People! Can we please collectively get our shit together, FFS? This doll looks like more women I know who workout regularly and eat healthy foods than any other Barbie I’ve seen. She looks like what little girls see when they look at their moms. And what they might grow up to be. If this looks “unhealthy” to you, then I have to ask, would you prefer a body with surgical enhancement? Or an eating disorder? This Barbie looks like someone who might go for a 5-mile run and then eat a slice of pizza on a Friday night with her family because it makes her happy. This Barbie is probably what my kids see when they look at me.

But honestly, the comments that bothered me even more were the ones that refused to acknowledge the impact childhood dolls like this have on our kids. “She’s just a doll,” so many commenters—so many WOMEN—said. “Sorry…Barbie is a toy that brought millions of little girls happy memories just the way she was. Only adults with issues see/saw something wrong with her. Barbie did not cause ‘body dysmorphia’ issues for girls…..society did. Adults in their life did. Blaming a doll is ridiculous. Changing her look is just another symptom of society trying to fix stupid!” one comment read.

Yeah, well how do you think “society” caused body dysmorphia for so many kids, Janet? By shoving shit like this in their faces from the time they are toddlers. With unrealistic rules of what “beauty” is conveyed through their toys, dolls, movies, and TV shows. So by the time girls are about to grow out of Barbies and princesses, so many of them hate themselves because when they look in the mirror, they have learned to not like what they see.

And I know this isn’t the case for everyone. “No little girl actually believed she would grow up to look like Barbie, it was make believe” another commenter said. “Me and all my friends played with original Barbies. I don’t know any of us that had/have body issues. This is more stuff that adults make up,” shared another.

To that I say YAY FOR YOU. Seriously, I’m glad you grew up with a healthy body image. I cannot say the same. And I want better for my kids.

But most importantly, how is it ever a bad thing to show diversity among our kids’ toys and among the images they see in books and on TV and movie screens? The fact that Barbie—such an iconic toy that so many kids have loved for so many generations—has created diverse dolls with different skin tones, ethnicities, career choices, and YES, body types is something to be celebrated.

“Nothing was wrong with original Barbie!” lots of people said. Okay, sure. Original Barbie was one of my great loves as a kid. And if my kid wants to play with original Barbie, honestly, that’s fine. But I will make sure there are other dolls with different skin colors, hair, and body types in the mix—I promise you.

I work damn hard to promote body positivity in my home, with all of my kids. My husband and I work out regularly and talk to our kids about strong muscles and strong bones. We don’t talk about our weight. We don’t own a scale. We eat lots of meats and veggies and also ice cream and pizza on Friday nights. I’m doing my best to ensure that when she hits 13, my daughter looks in the mirror and likes what she sees. And that she doesn’t have a 25-year long battle with self-criticism. And that if she gains weight in college and some asshole thinks it’s funny to pinch her side, she can stand tall, look him in the eye, and tell him to fuck off because she’s amazing regardless of her weight. (And maybe punch him in the face for touching her, but that’s another post for another day.)

Despite the haters in that comment thread, I say thank you Mattel for this doll. And thank you Disney for Moana. Keep these new versions of “beauty” coming. Our kids are watching.

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