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Barbie: Friend or Foe? Unraveling the Controversy Surrounding the Iconic Doll

Written by: Amanda Levison, M.S., LMHC, LPC, CCBT

Barbie dolls have been around since 1959, but it's not until the new Barbie movie has been released that there has been a huge craze. The recent Barbie movie has sparked a ton of conversation over the last few months, even before the film opened in theatres for viewing. Many people have positive and negative experiences with someone who loved the doll or the iconic Barbie doll. Were they just toys, or did the designer have an agenda? Were they created to empower young women, or were they designed to promote feminism? Did Barbie put a sealed stamp of approval in a young girl's mind of the working woman? Whether or not someone played with Barbies, we have seen the opinions over the last few months.

barbie doll

As a little girl, I would play with Barbie when I was home, playing alone or on a play date. I remember styling Barbie in what I thought looked like "great outfits" and playing with her hair. I learned how to braid hair because Barbie's hair was so realistic with the many fibers. Now, as a mom, I see my young daughters playing the same way. It brings happiness to my heart, and I feel very nostalgic for my childhood. Some trends change throughout life, but how little girls play with Barbie has remained the same.

With the new Barbie movie recently being released, young and not-so-young women and even men are running to see it. Women are dressing in pink and in all levels of the iconic Barbie fashion to see Barbie. This movie exemplifies Barbie, with numerous members of the cast being Barbie and Ken and every style of them. They even have "Weird Barbie!" I never had a weird Barbie, but I knew exactly which one that was. That was the one where you cut her hair, made ugly hairstyles, and drew Sharpie and pen all over her. In the movie, it is super weird but very relatable to the famous doll. It's even exemplified in the famous kids' television show, "Rugrats," where Angelica always carries her doll, Cynthia, who mirrors the idea of "Weird Barbie." As a Barbie lover, I love the movie; however, many who did not share my sentiment with Barbie had a different experience. I would be so bold as to say that to fall in love with the movie, you had to love Barbie or Barbies or at least have connected to the doll somehow. Now, I'm sure many people enjoyed the movie and have never played with a Barbie before, and that's fair. It was spot on for me, from the dream house, the clothing, the variety of looks and styles, the accessories and food, to the hand motions- everything! However, not everyone loved the movie, and some of those people were the ones who didn't connect with Barbie.

Who is Barbie?

Barbie made her debut in 1959 and quickly became a cultural phenomenon. With her impeccable style, countless career choices, and dreamy lifestyle, Barbie seemed to embody the epitome of success and femininity. When conversations sparked about Barbie neglecting to represent the world as we know it, the brand implemented many changes. Through the years, Barbie has celebrated diversity by introducing dolls of different ethnicities, backgrounds, body types, levels of fashion, and occupations. These efforts have aimed to reflect the evolving-minded society and provide representation for girls of all backgrounds and cultures. A toy (doll) for everyone to play with that recalled who they were and who they could become.

The Controversy!

Barbie, the iconic doll that has been captivating children's imaginations for decades, has been a topic of controversy and heated debate in recent years. While some argue that Barbie is a positive influence and role model for young girls, others believe she perpetuates harmful stereotypes and unrealistic beauty standards. This blog post will delve into the controversy surrounding Barbie and explore both sides.

Side A:

Despite her extensive evolution, Barbie remains a subject of criticism. Detractors argue that the doll perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards, emphasizing a slim figure, flawless features, and unattainable perfection. Critics claim these ideals can negatively impact a young girl's self-esteem and body image, fostering insecurities and self-doubt. Another point of contention revolves around Barbie's portrayal of femininity. Some argue that her emphasis on fashion, beauty, and materialism strengthens stereotypes and limits girls' aspirations. They claim that Barbie fails to empower young girls to pursue careers in male-dominated fields or engage in activities traditionally seen as "boyish."

Side B:

On the other hand, proponents argue that Barbie is a positive role model. They believe that the doll encourages imagination, creativity, and exploration. Barbie's vast range of careers and hobbies inspire girls to dream big and strive to achieve their goals. Moreover, Barbie's diverse lineup of dolls has been praised for promoting inclusivity and representation, making dolls that reflect real-world diversity more accessible. Supporters also assert that parents play a crucial role in shaping their children's perceptions of Barbie. Parents can help children navigate the differences between fantasy and real-life expectations by fostering open conversations and teaching critical thinking skills. In this context, Barbie can be seen as an opportunity for parents to address body image concerns, beauty standards, and the importance of inner qualities instead of external appearance.

Should We Choose A Side?

As with any debated topic, it is essential to strike a balance between the viewpoints surrounding Barbie. Rather than viewing Barbie as either a friend or a foe, an understanding approach can be adopted. Barbie's ability to evolve and adapt, showcasing more diverse representations, should not be overlooked. However, it is also crucial to remain vigilant and address any potential negative impact on children's self-esteem and aspirations. Ultimately, Barbie's influence on young minds depends on various factors such as parental guidance, exposure to diverse role models, and promoting a broader definition of beauty and success. By combining critical thinking and fostering healthy conversations with children, we can help them navigate the Barbie phenomenon and develop a balanced perspective.

Barbie remains an enigmatic and controversial figure. While she has undoubtedly inspired generations of children to dream big and explore their passions, concerns about unrealistic beauty standards and limited gender roles persist. It is essential to approach the Barbie debate with an open mind, recognizing both the iconic doll's positive impact and potential drawbacks. By fostering an environment of inclusive discussions and encouraging critical thinking, we can empower young girls to develop a healthy perspective on Barbie and the world she represents. Rather than choosing sides, Barbie’s influence on today’s youth, whether masculine, feminine, or another gender identification, offers options to understand that in spite of recent developments with the transgendered population of people who either struggle to identify as masculine or feminine, knowing and accepting that these traditional roles do still exist and that it is okay to be able to follow them will provide our children with opportunities to accept themselves for who they are. It may be that we have a child who identifies in a more traditional role or is questioning themselves like everyone else. Either way, if we wish to be a diverse nation accepting those who identify with neither masculine nor feminine, we must also strive not to ignore that many may grow up to identify with the basic genders, and if so, they, too, must not be discriminated against for what they believe.

In today’s culture, it may not be realistic to see Barbie as a female who represents what all females are to look like. However, if we wish to strive to model a healthier version of what one’s body image can be, we cannot be faulted for demonstrating that version to our youth. For instance, is it realistic to show a larger version of Barbie so that many larger framed children and teens can identify with her? Or is it simply negligent to foster this? By providing Barbie as a role model of what a healthy person can present may encourage youth to want to choose a healthier mindset. Rather than insulting a larger-framed child, it can instead encourage positive change for a healthier life. In this case, Barbie’s role, as in past generations, can model simply another way of looking at ourselves.

So, is Barbie a friend or a foe? The answer may lie in the complexity of individual experiences, societal influences, and the messages we promote. Whether you find yourself on sides A or B, listening to others to maintain an educated stance with or against Barbie is a great idea. If you struggle with addressing the pros and cons as a parent, don't be afraid to ask others for objective thoughts, and if further assistance is warranted, reach out to a professional for guidance. Like anything else, children will either identify with Barbie or they won’t. People have grown up either accepting what they think Barbie represents or ignoring or denying it. Either way, the concept of Barbie is just one possibility of what our youth can aspire to. Nothing more and nothing less.

Note: This blog post aims to explore the controversy surrounding Barbie. The arguments presented represent different viewpoints and should not be considered definitive.


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