Photo by Nickolay Lamm
By Maggie Cai
Assistant Arts & Features Editor
If Barbie were a real person proportional to her plastic self, she would be 5 feet 9 inches tall, have a 39-inch chest and an 18-inch waist.
According to a study done by Yale University, she would also only wear size 3 shoes, have a waist smaller than her head, be unable to menstruate, be considered anorexic, only have room for half of a liver and a few inches of intestines and have to walk on four legs to support her heavy upper body.
Barbie would be shocked to see Nicolay Lamm’s Lammily Doll or the “Normal Barbie.” According to the same study, if Lammily were a real person, she would be 5 feet 4 inches tall, have a 32-inch chest, 31-inch waist and 33-inch hips. She would also wear size 7.5 shoes.
The two dolls represent the two sides of the issue of the idealization of women in the American culture today. Barbie symbolizes the oppressive body image expectations imposed on women, while Lammily represents the suppression of this ideal.
“The Barbie doll is meant to exhibit what the perfect woman would look like,” said Raymond Chen, 22. “In reality, the Barbie doll proportions aren’t even close to what the human body is capable of in terms of shape and size.”
The ideal body type portrayed by Barbie and advertisements is possessed naturally by only 5 percent of American females.
“The pressure on women to be young, thin, beautiful is more intense than it has ever been,” said Jean Kilbourne, an internationally recognized expert on gender issues and the media in a TED Talk. “Our girls are getting the messages today so young that they have to be incredibly thin, and beautiful and hot and sexy and that they’re going to fail because there is no way they can measure up to this impossible ideal.”
According to a study done in 2010 by Girl Scouts of America and The Dove Self-Esteem Fund, 63 percent of girls think the body image portrayed by the fashion industry is unrealistic and 47 percent think it is unhealthy, yet 60 percent say that they compare their bodies to those models.
Today’s society obsesses about image instead of substance and magazines and advertisements take advantage of it because it sells, explained Andreas Rentsch, a commercial photographer and professor at Stony Brook. The ethical problem it raises for a photographer is when these idealizations made by alterations are marketed as an accurate portrayal of an individual.
“By making Barbie the perfect woman, it makes girls think that they have to conform to this standard and achieve it in order to be normal or beautiful by society’s standards,” said Masooma Kazmi, 20. “Young girls grow up with this mentality and it just leads to body image issues and disorders.”
There is no actual research or evidence directly linking this idealized body image influenced by the media to eating disorders, although it may influence disordered eating.
Eating disorders and disordered eating have crucial differences. Eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia nervosa are easily diagnosable and clinical, whereas disordered eating, although it may also exhibit symptoms of eating disorders, is less severe and includes issues with self-esteem and personal criticism of one’s body.
“The thing that not many people see is that by having a perfect woman be a toy suggests to both male and female consumers or anyone exposed to the toy, that the perfect woman is just that, a toy,” said Kevin Urgiles, 19.
Not everyone feels this way.
“I don’t really particularly agree with the idea that Barbie has a negative influence on kids. Yes, people can argue that it’s too skinny and flawless, but at a young age, do kids really think about that first?” said Kitty Lau, 40, mother of two. “When my daughter had a Barbie, she would dress her up as a doctor and switch her outfits to other professions and would tell me she wanted to be a doctor like Barbie when she grew up.”
But men also arguably play a part in influencing the effects of this idealization of women and in shaping this culture in America.
“As vulgar as it seems, the media has constantly bombarded males with the supermodel image through advertisements, TV shows and even toys like Barbie and the constant bombardment does its job as seen by the changing tastes of men for what kind of woman they prefer,” said Chen. “This bombardment shifts the once held male perspective of the perfect women resembling that of the unrealistic Barbie doll.”
“I think that the commercialization of toys and products can surely affect what girls and women want to purchase and how they want to look and while this isn’t always harmful, for some it might set up some unmanageable expectations,” said Catherine Marrone, a professor of sociology at Stony Brook. “If girls or women watch others on television using products to look or dress a certain way, they might not be able to afford those things and the looks might simply be unattainable and then the girls or women may be left to feel as though they don’t measure up.”
So you decide. Is the pressure on women caused by this idealization a form of motivation and empowerment or a dehumanization of beauty?