The Barbie Distortion

[t]he media images and fashion icons that we aspire to emulate are constructions. Like billboard signs and magazine editorials, the pictures are manipulations that distort our sense of normal bodies.

A white woman's naked body is shown from the hips up, her arms are held in front of her breasts.  She is holding a Barbie doll.  On her body and face are "surgical lines" indicating where she deviates from the Barbie ideal.

Model Katie Halchishick displays the surgery that would be needed to make her look like Barbie (Matthew Rolston/O Magazine)

via Sociological Images

Categories: gender & feminism, health

Tags: , , , ,

9 replies

  1. There is something about the graphic illustration that to conform to this image you would need to somehow surgically remove most of your neck, the muscles along your shoulders, vast sections of arm, and to cut right through internal organs to shape a waist that simply couldn’t contain the necessary organs that cuts to the chase the way that a lot of discussions around body image can’t. I mean I don’t want to speak for others (maybe others are better at being able to reject the icky feelings that come with body image/self image stuff) but some days I will be viscerally in the grip of feeling that there is something *wrong* about my body, simply because it’s not one of those willowy bodies with the incredibly long narrow torsos that don’t look like they could contain actual guts etc but that I appear to think I *ought to* have.

  2. It’s easy to blame current female beauty standards on Barbie, but I think the sort of criticism in this picture is a bit unfair.
    Barbie is only about 10 cm tall, and her primary purpose has been for her to look “good” when dressed up. Because cloth takes up proportionally a lot more space on a 10 cm figure than on a 180 cm figure, you pare away at the doll to make room for the cloth. I don’t think it ever occurred to the designers (or, IMHO, the girls of that time, either) that one would even pay a lot of attention to how Barbie looked naked, let alone regard naked Barbie as a scale model of the ideal female figure.
    Not that I’m a fan of Barbie. Barbie’s purpose was and is to teach girls that their role in life is to dress up and look fashionable, to have the fashionable accessories, to have a fashionable boyfriend; in short, to be a Doll in A Doll’s House.
    I just don’t think she bears major responsibility for society’s demand for women to be ever more unnaturally thin. (I think there are much more obvious causes for this.)

  3. I disagree with you AMM, suggesting that it’s unfair to point out that Barbie is not a realistic role model because Barbie was not designed to be a realistic role model is unsettling me in a way I am having trouble articulating.
    As for the major responsibility, that sounds like a strawperson argument. Is someone claiming that Barbie does bear major responsibility?
    That way also leads to the idea that many small responsibilities all being insignificant add up to a problem without anyone being significantly responsible, and it’s just “one of those things”.

  4. “Not that I’m a fan of Barbie. Barbie’s purpose was and is to teach girls that their role in life is to dress up and look fashionable, to have the fashionable accessories, to have a fashionable boyfriend; in short, to be a Doll in A Doll’s House.”
    Yep. Compulsory femininity. I would also add that the mandate is not necessarily to have a fashionable boyfriend, but to have a boyfriend. In other words sending a message of compulsory heterosexuality, as well as reinforcing women’s roles as consumers in a consumer-based culture. I agree, there is way more going on with Babs than body shape.

  5. Don’t forget that Barbie was modelled on a popular men’s sex doll. There is a lot to unpack in the Barbie image debate.

  6. I think there are maybe a couple of things going on here – one is just the graphic depiction of what you’d have to cut away from a *model* to achieve Barbie (so the unrealistic image Barbie provides of ‘beauty’), but the other is the depiction of what you’d have to cut out from (almost) any woman to achieve any other current ‘ideal’ of beauty. It doesn’t have to be Barbie – if you put up a picture of me and then showed what you’d have to cut away to make me Dita Von Teese’s proportions you’d be carving away at least that much (not to mention a good foot or so of my height). I think it’s the depiction of stereotyped ‘ideal’ beauty (ie/ that to be THIN – and yet ‘gracefully curved’ – is the most important thing for a woman) on to an already conventionally beautiful body which brings home the message that it’s damaging to compare yourself to others, that no matter who you are the ‘ideals’ are always unachievable for almost all women. That comparing yourself to these ‘ideals’ is violent in the sense that you would need to literally carve away parts of your body that you require to live in order to be ‘more beautiful’ so that the desire to somehow achieve it wreaks violence on our self-image. I think the photoshopping of Jessica Alba brought it home for me too. If Jessica Alba (while being held up as the pinnacle of desirability) is not allowed to be herself, but must be whittled away by photoshop there is something very seriously broken, and systematically, which means that ‘beauty’ is always unattainable even FOR those famed for this beauty. But with this image you have this woman who is paid for her agreed-upon beauty clutching a doll which is iconic (can anyone among us remember a childhood in which she didn’t factor to some extent? If you didn’t have Barbies other kids at school did and the advertising was EVERYWHERE) – you dress her up, her whole purpose is to be shiny and pretty and fashionable and an aid to little girls make-believe stories – and there’s something about the graphic mark-up of where (and just how much) you would need to cut away at this model which brings it home rather succinctly. So I don’t know if the argument is ‘It’s Barbie! If not for her we’d all be happy with our bodies’. She is, however, as you say linked to fashion and pushing the idea that girls and women ought to be fashionable, and to look good in fasionable clothing which does appear to be premised on being as impossibly teeny tiny and thin as you can. I don’t know – it speaks to me of the time and money, the resources women are asked to invest in chasing after an ideal that is always already unattainable.
    So I don’t think it’s about Barbie being to blame for it all but at the same time I don’t think the makers of Barbie are absolved from the fact that their product does promote a ludicrously unrealistic ideal of beauty – in the same way that Disney artists and Bratz dolls designers bear responsibility. Cindy looked fine in clothes and she was at least more plausible than Barbie – it isn’t that Barbie NEEDS to look like she does to be a dress-up doll, it’s that they want her to look more glamourous, more chic, more icon-worthy so to do that they don’t mind plugging in to all the shit that goes on in the fashion industry and promoting to little girls the idea that they too ought to be fashionable at all costs and that to look fashionable unreasonable thinness (though with breasts too large to be held up by that waist) is demanded by handing them this grotesquely proportioned doll, by promoting it unceasingly as the height of fashion and desirability.

  7. @ Mindy – wow! Just…wow.

  8. Lilli emodied a very prevalent female stereotype of post war Europe – the empowerfulised slutty gold-digger. She starred in so many movies, showing women that economic independence would only lead them to childless misery.

%d bloggers like this: