The Lonely Barbie Doll

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Did you know that the iconic Barbie doll is 60 years old? She’s as popular as ever. She’s gone through some changes through the years, expanding to a whole tribe of dolls of other races and genders. But one of the most significant recent changes involved some new versions of the old doll’s body shape. Dr. Jennifer Harriger of Pepperdine University decided to see what girls thought of these options.

She chose a group of girls aged 3 to 10, of different ethnicities, most of whom already owned a Barbie doll. She showed them a group of Barbies:

  • the traditional leggy version
  • one which was taller and leaner than the original
  • one that was more petite
  • and one that resembled someone who wore a size 4 or 6. Only the last one didn’t have a “thigh gap,” and actually most closely resembled a real person.  

All the Barbies had the same face and the same bikini. Then she asked the girls some questions-- Which one would be “happy, smart, has friends, pretty, helps others, sad, not smart, has no friends, not pretty, and mean,” according to Psychology Today. 

Now remember, the least lean of the choices would still in real life be quite thin. But the girls were ruthless. That was the one they wouldn’t want to be friends with – only 6% would choose to do so. The curvy Barbie was least likely, the girls said, to be smart or happy or pretty. In fact, most of them called this one “big,” “fat,” or “chubby.”

Here’s the most disheartening part. If being chubby – or even curvy in comparison to someone unnaturally thin—meant you were not as worthy to be a friend, that means that the girls would see others, and themselves, as not thin enough to be a good friend.  Other studies show that girls who have that kind of bias tend to be depressed, anxious, and without self-confidence.

So, Barbie may be more popular than ever, but anyone who sees herself as “the chubby Barbie” won’t like herself at all.

Since 1992, Dr. Robinson has worked in a variety counseling positions. She is also a popular author and speaker on topics ranging from childhood development and sexuality, teen issues, family dynamics including caring for elderly relatives, and church resources for families.

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