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Body Image: Barbie

October 24, 2011

The Barbie and The Beautiful

Healthy is the New Skinny. It’s amazing to me that Barbie was created over 60 years ago, and it has taken us this long to create a movement where we celebrate health over beauty ideals, being natural over surgically altering our selves, and promoting beauty of all types (inner and outer and diverse) over one established norm.

Of course, there have been many people fighting and struggling to be heard and seen and appreciated and promoted over and against the consistent power of the media in telling us how to feel/think/act in terms of our own bodies. But, it finally seems that celebrating beautiful, healthy individuals for who they are (versus trying to change them to fit our standards) is becoming more and more socially acceptable and actually in demand.

O Magazine did a spread recently about “Improving Body Image, Improving Self-Esteem” and one of the pieces featured was entitled “Dear Every Woman I Know, Including Me,” by writer Amy Bloom. And the accompanying photograph is the fascinating shot featured above.

This is not a tirade against the tabloids or the beauty industry. The tabloids produce crap, but people (mostly women) buy it: pictures of the overweight (they’ve let themselves go!), the enhanced and shapely (you, too, can look like this if you eat garlic and grapefruit!), and the shame-on-her-for-getting-too-skinny (as if no tabloid editor can imagine how a six-foot starlet came to think 130 pounds is obese). The beauty industry sees opportunity and shoots for it. The question is, how do we keep ourselves from being the opportunity, from seeing the mirror—and food, and other women—as the enemy? And how do we make all this stuff less terrible for our daughters, our nieces, the 19-year-old who feels her life will be ruined without breast implants?

While I don’t completely agree with Ms. Bloom (we buy the crap because that’s what out there…and if that’s all we’re exposed to and have accessible to us, what are we supposed to believe?)–and I myself am prone to rants and tirades against the tabloids and/or beauty/weightloss industry–I am just so happy to see all of these issues being discussed openly and honestly. It’s time that our discussions center around what WE the people want, not what we’re told to want by the media. That’s the only way real change can come.

And now to the iconic image. HealthyIsTheNewSkinny co-creator Katie Halchishick was photographed as the human diagram of what one would have to go through to achieve the idealized Barbie body. And here were the results:

Here’s a breakdown of what she’d need done to be the kind of doll women aspire to: a brow lift, a jaw line shave, rhinoplasty, a cheek and neck reduction, a chin implant, scooped-out shoulders, a breast lift, liposuction on her arms, and tummy tuck, which would also have to be sculpted as if it were lined in whale-bone from the inside. And that’s just the half of her.

Halchishick doesn’t actually need or want any of these procedures. She’s proving a point: just because our distorted image of how a body should be is medically attainable, that doesn’t mean it should be attained.

And that last bit is the part of the message that I absolutely love: that because we are bombarded with how we should/could look every single day DOES NOT mean that we have to ascribe to those views and allow it to induce self-loathing or a deep desire to change ourselves! Nobody should be able to tell you what you think about yourself. And the more we change the imagery that we are presented with and that is socially acceptable in our media, the more this will resonate and actually be instilled in people. It’s also interesting that the creator of Barbie saw her innovation as a positive contribution to women and society:

“My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be,” Handler wrote in a 1994 autobiography. “Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”

With the new doll, girls could play out their dreams of adolescence and beyond. Barbie, after all, could go to the prom, get married, or even travel to the moon.

“Over and over I’ve had it said to me by women,” Handler told The Associated Press in 1994. “She was much more than a doll for them. She was part of them.”

It is fascinating to me how mangled her mission of self-empowerment has become, and resonates with me that we each individually need to reclaim that. Remember my post about the actual real-live woman who wants to become a “Human Barbie” and is promising her small child breast implants when she turns 16? Terrifying, right? But that is being passed on through generations and real change begins with each of us. It is time for change.

(Image courtesy of Shine!)

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 24, 2011 6:59 pm

    Read this the other day, and it’s absolutely insane!!

    Body image is out of control…change needs to happen…and a lot of change!

  2. October 24, 2011 7:23 pm

    I agree with you, but I also feel that many mainstream media sources merely pay lip service to promoting healthy body image. It’s so common these days to open a women’s magazine that has a decent feature about healthy body image, only to turn the pages and find literally hundreds of advertisements that reinforce damaging beauty ideals like being extremely skinny, wearing lots of make-up and just generally being picture perfect.

    It’s actually trendy for media outlets to pretend that they promote healthy body image. Most of them aren’t genuinely serious about it (yet).

  3. Sexy Curmudgeon permalink
    October 25, 2011 4:44 am

    “…And the more we change the imagery that we are presented with and that is socially acceptable in our media, the more this will resonate and actually be instilled in people.”

    You couldn’t have said it better, and your point against Amy Bloom is equally accurate here – we buy and subscribe to the images and viewpoints that inundate the media and by extension our social sphere. Both in regards to behavior and body, it is largely up to purveyors of mass media to decide what is considered the “norm” for women – repetition of these images and actions in society is what creates the illusion of a “norm,” not the fact that any one body type or catty personality is more feminine or “normal” than any other.

  4. October 25, 2011 10:16 pm

    I dunno…I grew up playing with Barbies and I never knew of any girl who actually thought the doll was a realistic representation of a real person any more than we thought Baby Alive was a realistic representation of an infant. She’s basically a mannequin or a clothing hanger. It’s a toy and every six or eight months someone makes it a news story. It’s a non-story. Kids who play with toy guns (do they even make those anymore? Probably not, now that I think of it) don’t necessarily grow up to be snipers and kids who play with fashion dolls don’t necessarily develop eating disorders or think they have to be six feet tall and have eyebrows that hover above their heads. The new website/blog about health is interesting; I do think we have way more adolescent and teenage girls who teeter on obese and are told to love themselves “just the way they are” rather than make a concerted effort to be more active and eat more nutritious whole foods.

    • October 25, 2011 10:43 pm

      I think you raise a great point Norma. We have taken the “acceptance of who we are” thing too far so that it’s now used as an excuse to stay obese and unhealthy. Yes, of course you should accept who you are in the sense that you shouldn’t have to live up to unrealistic beauty ideals like Barbie, Hollywood actresses, etc. But when you’re unhealthily overweight that is no longer the issue.

      This sounds terrible, but when I see very large girls walking down the street in the latest skimpy fashions such as skin-tight leggings, their enormously chubby thighs and abdominal fat on display for all to see (because it’s “discrimination” now if clothes stores don’t make sizes that cater for 300 pound women), I think to myself that society does actually have a responsibility to exert some pressure on these people to be healthy. Is indulging their obesity doing them any good?

      • October 26, 2011 12:39 am

        Couldn’t agree more. Despite the prevalence of skeletal high fashion models and every tabloid screaming headlines about celebrities who are “down to 90 lbs!”, on a daily basis I see teenage girls easily pushing 200 who are not afraid to wear spaghetti strap tank tops and wedgie-inducing short-shorts because obesity has been so normalized and the whole “this is who I am” is used as a basis for indulging in an unhealthy lifestyle. I can’t say I’ve ever personally seen a teenage girl who appeared anorexic/unhealthily underweight…some naturally slim, petite girls, yes, but none alarmingly thin or frail. My kids remember when I was obese; they remember when trips to McDonald’s were a regular thing and when there was always ice cream in the freezer and potato chips on the shopping list. Now they know I work out every day and they read nutrition labels and know that fruit and veggies are the snacks on hand…they know I’m happier and they’re proud of my athletic accomplishments…so I hope they are learning to respect their bodies and treat them as the miraculous machines they are, rather than buy into a media photoshopped airbrushed image of a plastic-surgrically enhanced “perfect” woman.

  5. October 26, 2011 2:43 pm

    Great discussion going on here! And, I see both of your points. But, this is why I brought up the idea of presenting socially acceptable, healthy women in the media so that young women have something to aspire to, which is why I really appreciate this new movement. Since we are continually bombarded with highly sexualized and popularized imagery of “ideal” women, these teenage girls that you discuss who are wearing clothes that are ill-fitting and uncomfortable for them are doing so because of their desire to fit in, no matter the cost. When I was writing this point, I started thinking about “what came first?” (the chicken or the egg situation)–the media imagery or the demand to present oneself a certain way? It’s tricky, but I truly believe that with healthy, naturally beautiful models more present at the forefront of the media, it will instill a change in the way women see themselves and therefore present themselves.

  6. October 26, 2011 4:13 pm

    A couple of interesting things:

    1. Ruth Handler creator of Barbie was an American businesswomen born to Jewish-Polish immigrants (thanks wikipedia). There are a couple of interesting commentaries out there about the Aryan-like nature of Barbie and they suggest a goisha complex inherent in the doll. I think this is a potentially interesting parallelism to the role Barbie has regarding instilling notions of guilt and envy for that kind of body type by some of her users.

    http://articles.sfgate.com/2005-11-30/entertainment/17400276_1_ruth-handler-leonard-shlain-jewish-today

    2. I am really digging the emphasis you are putting on health Hangry Hippo and I think it is a great displacement for the overemphasis that is put on weight. Some woman are healthy and have huge thighs – if they want to rock the leggings then I dig it – they can do ‘Beyonce booty dances’ that would literally blow a thinner person out of the water and they should rock that (re an earlier Tyra rant by Hangry). I understand the concern that the fat is beautiful movement could potentially be understood as promoting an unhealthy lifestyle but I think it is also important to understand that the two are not mutually exclusive. Talking about health in terms other than weight I think is crucially important. Health is how your body reacts to physical exercise, how it processes the food you eat, how frequently you are sick and the type of diseases you do or do not have or are instigating. Health is holistic and while weight is a component of it, it is in no way deterministic. We have to be careful about making people with naturally healthy larger bodies not go to unhealthy extremes to conform to our limited understanding of what a healthy body looks like.

    3. The Great Wall of Vagina – I recently watched this documentary called The Perfect Vagina about vagina-plasty (stick with me here). The movie exposes how subconsciously internalized notions of bodily perfection are enacted on woman through social cues and the media. There is one woman who claims to hate her weird ‘bits’ and is contemplating vagina-plasty. Upon the recommendation of the film maker she goes and gets a cast done of her ‘fanny’ (British words for vagina are both hilarious and fascinating) by the maker of the Great Wall of Vagina. She is both shocked at the variety of vaginas that have been previously casted by this person and has this aha moment upon seeing the cast of her vagina where she realizes the vast disconnect between how she had been imagining her vagina to be and how it actually is. Suffice it to say there are tears and a grateful half naked woman with a new found appreciation for her in tact ‘down-there’. People are different and seeing the power that acknowledgement of variety had on this woman’s conception of her own body was shocking. Yes, yes, yes – we desperately need more variety of healthy bodies in the media. Thanks vagina, another lesson learned.

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/perfect-vagina/
    http://www.greatwallofvagina.co.uk/

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