Barbie and Fashion: From the Beginning

Easily my favorite toy as a little girl was Barbie. I look back now and ponder the effect she had on ‘shaping’ my life. I had several dolls and many more ‘Barbie’ suitcases used as portable closets for all her clothes. And man did I have clothes! Endless dresses—styles for day wear and for evening wear—play clothes and SHOES galore. I would sit in the middle of the floor and surround myself with my Barbie world, which was, essentially, an endless closet. One of my earliest memories was of being babysat by my cousin and having her leave the room only to come back with Barbie in a new bathing suit that she had whipped up in a matters of minutes on her sewing machine. I was three. By age 4 I had my own miniature but fully working sewing machine. It’s not too difficult to imagine where my love for fashion came from.

But Barbie’s influence didn’t stop there. All through my teens I always thought I was fat. Funny, now I look back and realize that the size 3 that I wore was hardly ‘fat’. Nevertheless I had this perception that I was not the ideal size. Back then, nobody ever talked about different types of bodies, shapes and heights being acceptable. I don’t even remember how old I was when I first went on a diet. But I can tell you I did it often. Grapefruit with cottage cheese and the like; I remember the low fat craze… then the Atkins ‘lots of fat’ diet, and so on.

Perhaps I thought I needed to look like Barbie, which would be totally impossible in real life.  6′ 0″ tall, weighing 100 lbs, and a size 4. Her measurements would be 39″/19″/33″. She would probably have had to have back surgery from being so top heavy.  (By the way, the average woman is 5′ 4″, weighs 145 lbs., and wears between a size 11-14. Her measurements are approximately 36″/30″/41″.   There’s also a fifty-fifty chance that she is on a diet right now.)

After spending my childhood playing with Barbie, I moved on to fashion magazines featuring models and actresses who stand 5′ 11″ and weight 117 lbs. It’s no wonder I had a complex…  Barbie did, however, instill the idea of having a career and independence. Along with that came the need for material wealth and consumerism. After all, she did have the perfect wardrobe, convertible car, dream house, etc.

“Advertisements targeting children in the 1950s and 1960s sought to lay the groundwork for a lifetime of consumption… Mattel’s teenage Barbie with her closets full of fashionable outfits and accessories taught the importance of how you dressed and what you owned.”

Reflecting on my past, I probably spent a little too much money collecting ‘things’.

Let’s talk for a minute about shoes. Man do I love shoes! Barbie’s feet are permanently formed to wear high heels. I remember getting my first pair of high heels in grade seven—they were at least 3 1/2 ” inches high. All my adult life I’ve worn stilettos…until recently when my shortened Achilles tendon gave out (surgery and flat shoes ever since). I remember when I started wearing make-up too. Blue eyeshadow. Where ever did I get that idea??

It’s really quite astonishing to sit here and think the effect that a little plastic doll has had on my life. How has Barbie shaped yours?

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cyndia
    Feb 19, 2011 @ 08:13:34

    Really? You’re going to blame a plastic doll for your body image? It’s not the first time I’ve heard this, but I still don’t understand it. Barbie dolls are a part of many young girls’ lives, yes, but certainly not all. There are so many other, more important reasons that girls develop such poor body images, and many come from within their families. My mom comes to mind. She grew up very poor and there was no such thing as Barbie in her life. My mother was always on a diet, and my father constantly criticized her weight. At 5’3″, she weighed about 140. Slightly overweight for the Metropolitan chart, but certainly not the grossly obese woman my father made her out to be. As a result, I grew up thinking I myself was fat, at 115 lbs. My family, particularly my father, was the influence on my thinking. Magazines, television, and other external sources certainly perpetuate that elusive “perfect body”. I had a ton of Barbies; so did my daughter. To my knowledge, she has never once considered herself “fat”. But then she was raised in a home where those things were discussed openly, weight was never judged, and she was given space to develop her own healthy self-esteem, not dependent on external sources.
    If you see Barbie as the reason your body image is skewed, fine. But look a little deeper at what other external influences you were exposed to as a child. My niece has never been allowed to have Barbies, but at five already talks about being “fat”, when in actuality she is very thin for her age. She’s not allowed to watch television commercials, look at fashion magazines, etc, so you can’t blame those either. Nope her body image is coming straight from her dad, who is a product of our father’s thinking, and her mom, who is an exercise addict and despite being thin herself, opted for a tummy tuck after her daughter was born, even though the surgeon told her she didn’t need it.


    • Diane Kennedy
      Feb 19, 2011 @ 12:05:08

      Thanks for your reply Cyndia. I certainly don’t blame Barbie entirely for my body image as a teenager but I am suggesting ‘she’ was or could be a contributing factor. I would agree that family also contributed. My mother was always on a diet and my father always told me I’d be just like my mother! Thanks Dad! Luckily I grew to love and accept myself in my curvy body as an adult.


  2. Banzai
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 14:14:47

    I was lucky to find this blog.
    What a swell blog! I admire how appointed each of the entries are. They are well balanced, both informational and funny, and the pictures are cool too.


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