This was my essay from my 11th Grade AP English Language class that I would like to share with the world.
"If one speaks to nearly any child today, the word Barbie will definitely evoke a reaction out of them. Barbie was invented in 1959 by Ruth Handler after she watched her daughter Barbara give her dolls a more adult role in her stories. Handler presented her doll at the American Toy Fair in New York City. Barbie was then adopted by Mattel. Barbie was meant to be a fashion icon for teenagers and girls. In today’s society, however, there has been a major controversy over this doll. Many people believe that Barbie’s figure can be detrimental to girls’ self-esteem. Playing with Barbie dolls, however, can actually be beneficial to a girl's self-esteem and her viewpoint on her abilities.
Barbie was the first doll to break gender occupational stereotypes. Before any other doll maker, Barbie had working dolls. The working dolls included veterinarians, businesswomen, and GI Janes, which were originally considered to be male dominated careers (Deseure). Barbie has always been depicted as a worldly woman, something not many people were used to seeing back when Barbie was first mass produced. Women originally were believed to have three jobs: cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children. Barbie, however, tells girls that they are capable of so much more if they wish to be. Lori Gilbert commented that "she [Barbie] represented a world of possibilities. She could be a mom or a career woman" (Gilbert). Barbie was one of the few things in these girls lives that encouraged them to go out in a male-dominated society and make themselves known. These dolls give young girls inspiration and helped them realize that they can be anything they want to be, even if someone tells them that they can't because they are female.
Imagination is considered a powerful thing for a child. Barbie lets children expand their imaginations because they can make up characters and personalities and act out stories of their own creation. Paula Deseure said, “I really thought of her [Barbie] as a character in dramatic and intricate stories that I would make up with my friends and we would continue for weeks like a tv series” (Deseure). Barbie can be a “lightning rod for imagination, for companionship, for learning” (Gilman). Ruth Handler’s doll lets young girls use their creativity. Barbie plays the role of the puppet, and the girl is the puppet master. Every aspect of Barbie, including her hair, clothes, setting, and her friends, are controlled and wielded by her owner, and doing this will help a girl broaden her imagination. Much like how an author writes a story to make a character come to life, Barbie comes to life in a child’s eyes when they realize all of the stories they could come up with.
Contrary to popular belief, Barbie is not a direct cause of eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia. Anorexia and Bulimia can be caused by many things, and influences like “family dynamics, traumatic experiences, and societal messages” are more logical reasons for the development of these eating disorders in young girls and teenagers (Jupiter). Many people will attempt to pressure girls to become society’s idea of beautiful and slender. Girls feel pressured to conform to achieve the perfect figure. Barbie, however, cannot be directly held responsible for this. Barbie does not come out and say that she wishes to stop eating to achieve a certain look or acceptance from society; she actually declares that she can be anything she wants to be. Kate McPherson points out that “Barbie is a doll. She is not a parent putting her kid on a diet” (McPherson). The doll advocates the opposite of what people say. Barbie promotes a healthy relationship with her own self-image, and destructive messages from family and friends can be more hurtful than something a Barbie doll could ever say.
While the Barbie doll has completely unrealistic and unrepresentative proportions, when a girl is young, she does not focus on Barbie’s body proportions unless society tells her something is wrong. Many girls see her as a play toy, something they can have fun with and inspire to be as successful as. Young girls do not look at Barbie and say that she’s unproportionate. No girl knows what unproportionate means unless they are taught the definition, and this is taught by media. Magazines like Cosmopolitan tend to preach that a skinny woman is a sexy woman. Barbie teaches a much more valuable, body-positive lesson. Mattel tries to inspire girls to test the limits and reach for their dreams, not conform to society. Mattel has even made Barbies of other races, to prove that it doesn’t matter what background you come from. Barbie “is not an advertiser depicting all women white and malnourished. She is a symptom of society’s ills, not the center of the problem” (McPherson).
Barbie is the most successful doll in the world, and virtually every adolescent and teenager knows who the blonde-headed, eleven and a half inch tall doll is. In fact, it is estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold in over 150 countries. Because of this, many children are influenced by the doll, either directly or indirectly. So, instead of putting Barbie on a pedestal as a sex symbol, why can’t we use her as a feminist tool to stamp out sexism and damaging societal images of what a woman should be? Together, the world can change a girl’s mindset on herself and her own capabilities, one doll at a time."
Barbie is also running for president.
So, tell me again how Barbie is detrimental to women's self-esteem? Barbie is one of the best feminist icons that a little girl could have.