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Life-Size Barbie Shows Her Terrifying, Unrealistic Proportions

Life-Size Barbie Shows Her Terrifying, Unrealistic Proportions

When I was growing up, my mother never let me have Barbies.  Later, she explained that she hadn’t wanted to give me a doll that modeled such an absurdly unattainable version of beauty.  It was one way for her to shield me, however imperfectly, from the constant injunctions to be thin that would batter me throughout my life.  At the time, I didn’t understand how refusing to give me one doll would help me love my body in the face of a constant cultural onslaught.  When I played with Barbies at my friends’ houses, I wondered why my mother was so opposed to what seemed like a harmless toy.

The life-size Barbie built by Galia Slayen, a student at Hamilton College, vindicates my mother completely.  Slayen first built her version of Barbie out of wood, chicken wire and papier-mache when she was in high school.  The figure of a 6 foot tall woman with a 39″ bust, 18″ waist and 33″ hips is terrifyingly grotesque – her head is dwarfed by her breasts and hips, and between her tiny waist and stick-thin arms, it looks like it would be an easy task to snap Barbie in half.  Most poignantly, she is dressed in a size 00 skirt, left over from Slayen’s year-long struggle with anorexia.

“I had fond times with my Barbie, and I admired her perfect blonde locks and slim figure,” Slayen explained in a piece for Huffington Post earlier this week.  “Barbie represented beauty, perfection and the ideal for young girls around the world. At least, as a seven-year-old, that is what she was to me.”

With this horrifying reminder of what Barbie represents, Slayen was trying to start a conversation about eating disorders.  Although, as she admits, the proportions are not completely accurate, it still dramatically calls attention to the distorted version of the female body that girls have been playing with for decades.

“I’m not blaming Barbie [for my illness] — she’s one small factor, an environmental factor,” Slayen said.  But, using statistics at the end of her Huffington Post piece, she points out just how wide Barbie’s cultural reach is.  According to Slayen, there are two Barbie dolls sold every second, and the target demographic are girls aged 3-12.  These are the girls who learn, like Slayen, to idolize a female body that would, on a real woman, exhibit malnourishment and ill health.  As Slayen points out, “At 5’9″ tall and weighing 110 lbs, Barbie would have a BMI of 16.24 and fit the weight criteria for anorexia. She likely would not menstruate.”

Barbie’s manufacturer, Mattel, defended themselves by saying that Barbie “was never modeled on the proportions of a real person.”  But that doesn’t mean that girls don’t look at their Barbies and see a version of a woman – without realizing that it’s both unhealthy and unattainable.

Looking at the pictures of Slayen with her life-size Barbie, I understand why my mother didn’t want me to have these dolls.  And although she couldn’t shield me from Barbie’s influence entirely, I’m proud that she had the strength of conviction to protect me from such a toxic, distorted plaything.


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Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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7:29PM PST on Feb 8, 2014

Honestly, I think the parenting matters a lot more than the toys little children play with.
I had quite the Barbie collection when I was a child and turned out just fine. Despite the fact that they came in unrealistic proportions and dressed in overly frilly outfits, I had fun with them. I would pretend they were horseback riders with my model horses, play with baking soda and vinegar and pretend they were scientists; the possibilities were endless. I never once thought they were a realistic representation of what the female body should look like -- after all, they were just toys. My Little Ponies don't look exactly like horses (at all) so why would I believe that I was meant to look like Barbie?

1:52AM PDT on Jul 9, 2012

Wow that Barbie is creepy!!

6:26AM PST on Feb 11, 2012

Thank you for interesting article. Though now as an adult I see how unhealthy Barbie is, to be honest when I was little I loved Barbie - her appearance did not matter to me - what I saw her as, was a woman who could be what she aspired - a teacher, a doctor, an astornaut - she was a role model showing it's possible to follow dreams. I never admired her for her apperance, I always thought of her like a cartoon (who btw are also unrealistically thin eg. Wilma Flinstone) not to be mixed with reality. And when I was a kid I did not really think of comparing thinness or body image - I did not care what was her shape what I cared about was her teacher's dress and chalkboard representing possibilities.

2:05AM PST on Jan 16, 2012

Personally, I would just like to see real women and realistic dolls and realistic images of women. I have never fallen for women who were not real and shouldn't we be striving for play that reinforces realistic images? As a boy, I remember being confused about the male dolls that were all muscle-bound and not at all like the man I loved and respected.

8:09PM PST on Jan 14, 2012

I grew up also, playing with Barbie among a few other dolls and never gave a thought to trying to look like one, much less to whether represented reality. I watched very little TV as a kid, most of the time I spent outside, with friends, or reading. As others have said, there is not only too much emphasis on looks, but way too much blame on a doll! Yes, our society as a whole idolizes youth and unrealistic body shape (just look at models or Hollywood); but the real emphasis is on parents. We are the forerunners of our children's view of the world before dolls or TV or even peers. Start early. No child should ever believe they should look like Barbie!

5:28PM PST on Jan 10, 2012

There is definately too much importance put on looks. I must admit I played with Barbies as a child and loved them. I never really related to her skinny appearance. I never felt I needed to look like her. I just played with them and had fun. I never felt I had to look like Raggedy Ann or Strawberry Shortcake or Wonder Woman either.

4:12PM PST on Jan 10, 2012

I recall reading a detailed obituary of the woman who co-founded Mattel and 'invented' the Barbie doll. The article noted that 10 American women in 100,000 could naturally be expected to have the proportions of a Barbie doll.

10:56AM PST on Jan 10, 2012

Too much emphasis on looks, not enough on character.

8:56AM PST on Jan 10, 2012

@ Danielle I. You are correct. Green *

7:23AM PST on Jan 10, 2012

Barbie was just a toy for me, too. I never wanted to look like that.
I did, however, want to look like Audrey Hepburn...

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