Asexual Barbie: Unraveling Society's Perception and Body Image Impact
Margot Robbie, who will be portraying Barbie in the forthcoming movie, has stated that Barbie should never be seen as sexy. We discuss the implications of Barbie being asexual, society's perception of her, and studies related to these dolls and body image.
- Margot Robbie says Barbie ‘should never be sexy’
- Body image: Imagine Barbie with actual human proportions
- Barbie: The Real Enemy?
Courtney: So, Royce, this morning, when we decided we were going to sit down and record tonight, I told you that we were either going to be talking about the history of cake as a symbol in the Asexuality community or we were going to talk about boobs — as in, being an Asexual person with large boobs, and how boobs are inherently sexualized, whether you want them to be or not. But, uh… change of plans. We are not talking about either of those things. Maybe tangentially the boobs. But, uh… I decided about maybe 15 minutes ago: actually, let’s talk about Barbie.
Royce: Okay. And how did you get on this topic?
Courtney: Well, an article dropped. Have you seen any advertisements or trailers for the upcoming Barbie movie?
Royce: I, generally speaking, don’t see advertisers or trailers for anything ever.
Courtney: Lucky. But yes, that’s fair. I was vaguely aware that there is a Barbie movie coming up. I haven’t seen trailers for it. I don’t know much about it or when it’s supposed to come out. But I was at least aware that it’s a thing — I think mostly because the actors in it are on, like, big press tours and things, and I’m seeing a lot of celebrities wearing a lot of pink lately, [laughing] advertising the movie.
Courtney: Which is another really weird thing that started to happen, like, this year, or the last couple years especially. I feel like actors are dressing as the characters for whatever thing they’re advertising a lot lately. Like, we have Halle Bailey dressing as a mermaid all the time. We have these Barbie actors dressing as Barbie and Ken, and, like, Jenna Ortega from Wednesday, I have only seen her in, like, black, gothic, sometimes kind of cutesy, like, “gothic Lolita” kind of fashion, almost exclusively. I don’t know what stylist decided that that’s what we’re doing now, but I kind of hope it doesn’t last too long.
Courtney: But that is utterly beside the point. Barbie is apparently being played by Margot Robbie. And I just saw an article drop where she is making the assertion that Barbie does not feel any sexual desire. So, hello, we’re talking about Asexual Barbie.
Royce: I have questions about the nature of the movie. And I’m on Wikipedia, and the premise in one sentence is: “After being expelled from Barbieland for being a less-than-perfect doll, Barbie sets off to the real world to find true happiness.” So is this a, “I am portraying a non-human entity. I’m portraying a doll. And thus, human sexuality does not enter in” sort of thing?.
Courtney: Yes. A little bit — with a bit of an additional sort of societal caveat that we are going to take so much further than this actress did in the article she was quoted in. We’ve been given an inch, so we’re gonna take it a mile, as we do.
Courtney: Margot Robbie has said that while Barbie has been sexualized, she, quote, “should never be sexy. The Australian actor, who is starring as the doll in Greta Gerwig’s forthcoming film Barbie, reflected on the discussion over whether her role would be ‘sexy.’” And this came from an interview in Vogue where Robbie says, “I’m like, Okay, she’s a doll. She’s a plastic doll. She doesn’t have organs. If she doesn’t have organs, she doesn’t have reproductive organs. If she doesn’t have reproductive organs, would she even feel sexual desire? No, I don’t think she could.” And so far, I’m honestly not that mad about that. [laughs]
Royce: No, I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Courtney: I could see… I’m sure right now I can just picture the Tweets; I can picture the discourse in the community. I can see this being very polarized where, like, half of the people are like, “A literal plastic doll should not be Ace rep,” while the other half is like, “Yeah, Barbie is an Ace icon. Most iconic children’s toy of all time. Of course, yes, we claim her. She is one of us.” [laughs]
Royce: Well, the way I see it, you can take a non-human entity and reasonably have them Asexual. You just can’t say that all Asexuals have to be non-human entities, right?
Courtney: Yeah. We need humans that are also Asexual to balance it out. [laughs] But taking that a step further: from just the fact that, you know, Barbie is not, shall we say, anatomically correct, there’s a bit of a commentary on just society’s view of Barbie, where the actress is saying that people can project sex onto Barbie, but other people projecting sex onto Barbie is different than the doll itself being sexy. To back this sort of concept up, she said, quote, “Yes, she can wear a short skirt, but because it’s fun and pink. Not because she wanted you to see her butt.” And I think that’s perfectly reasonable!
Courtney: So I do want to have a conversation about Barbie as a concept, as… I guess sometimes seen as a bit of a sex symbol, and just how broader society sees her, and how it’s changed over time. Because I have thoughts that come from an experience that is true and is my own, but I also know it’s not the average experience. So I think I’ve got a bit of a unique perspective on this. Because, just for the sake of conversation, Royce, what is the first thing you think of when you think of Barbie?
Royce: My brain never knows how to process those questions. I don’t know. The dolls, the brand, the typeface?
Courtney: The typeface, yes! [laughs] “When I think of Barbie, I think of the typeface.”
Royce: You see it all at once. It’s the packaging and the branding, as well as the figure.
Courtney: It is a strong brand.
Royce: When you mentioned we were going to do this episode, I was trying to think how much visibility into Barbie have I had throughout my life, and it’s not much. It’s present. Like, it would be hard to at least be an American person living in our time period and have not at least heard of Barbie. I don’t know how international Barbie is.
Courtney: No, it is quite international.
Royce: But it’s present. It’s shown in movies. It’s seen in commercials. I don’t feel like anyone that I was around growing up was really, really into any type of material thing, like a doll like this. I have seen some. I’ve known people or been around people who have had Barbies, but it was just not remarkable.
Courtney: Yeah. And that’s kind of interesting, too, because there are some people who, like, love Barbie, and they have incredibly fond memories of childhood with Barbie. There are people who grow up to collect Barbies. I know I had a couple of Barbies as a young child, but I don’t feel like I played with them in the way the average child plays with dolls. But I think I just played differently, period, than the average child. [laughs]
Royce: Was this a “You got them all out and lined them up in a row and categorized them” kind of thing.
Courtney: Well, I did that with my dinosaurs. I’d line up my dinosaurs and I would, yes. [laughs] By shape, then by size, then by species, then I’d alphabetize them, because of course I memorized all of the dinosaur species [laughing] by, like, age five. But yeah, I always preferred — if I was ever playing pretend, I would always prefer to use my own body and act and improvise and play a game rather than having a doll that you’re holding up and talking and moving around. But that was just me. Maybe I’d line up all of the stuffed animals and dinosaurs and maybe the Barbie doll or two to be, like, an audience if I was putting on a show. I would dance for them. [laughs] But they were present in my life. They were never my favorite toy.
Courtney: But something very interesting started happening that I noticed maybe around 2006, roughly — like, mid-2000s. I feel like there was such a hard discourse shift from, like, “Barbie is this beloved childhood doll” to, like, “Barbie is very problematic.” And it was in the mid-2000s where you’d start hearing people talk about how, “Well, Barbie has unrealistic body proportions,” and “Barbie…” All these things people would say: like, [taunting tone] “If Barbie were a real human, she couldn’t even walk!” And people would pull that out as, like, an intellectual, like, “gotcha,” almost. And it was supposed to be a broader commentary on body image issues, which is a very real issue. And people then started to question: “Well, you know, is Barbie good for young girls to be exposed to?”
Courtney: And in the mid-2000s, when I was hearing, like, “No human could actually have this type of body, and she wouldn’t be able to walk,” and all these other things, I, at the time, not knowing much about Barbie, just sort of took it at face value and probably even repeated some of those talking points because it seemed like the feminist thing to do, right? Like, “Well, if Barbie’s hurting the body image of young girls, then surely she is an issue that must be squashed.”
Courtney: But here’s the thing: it is a lot more complicated than that. And I also think that in conversations like this, where we’re talking about body image and Barbie and the sexualization of Barbie, people will often say that those go hand in hand, that the sexualization of Barbie and that the unrealistic body expectations are sort of the same thing and the same problem. And that’s not the case at all, from where I’m sitting. I think you can have a conversation about body image and societal expectation and separately talk about the issue of people sexualizing Barbie, but to say that those inherently go hand in hand, I think, is the issue.
Courtney: Because if you say, “Well, because of the fact that Barbie has big boobs and big hips and a small waist, and she’s very tall and has skinny legs, that is why she is sexualized,” well, now you’re giving people essentially a pass for sexualizing different body types. And that is constantly what we’re trying to rail against in the Ace community especially — saying that a body does not have to be sexual, a human does not have to be sexual, and you certainly can’t sexualize a body just because you are projecting sex onto it. So I think these are two separate conversations, and I want to make that very, very clear.
Courtney: And from my perspective, as an Asexual person who kind of had Barbies — I’ve never been loyal to the brand, so to speak — but seeing the way the discourse around body image in Barbie has progressed over time has been kind of weird for me. Because I was sort of… The seeds had been planted in me that nobody could ever possibly look like Barbie, it’s unrealistic, and it’s awful to tell girls that they can or should look like that. Those seeds were kind of lightly planted in me before I fully developed and matured. And I wasn’t exactly Barbie proportions, but I was probably closer to Barbie proportions than the average body. And in fact, there have been so many art projects out there that’s trying to show, like, what Barbie would actually look like if she were a real human versus here’s what a, quote, “average 19-year-old” looks like next to Barbie, and showing the differences.
Courtney: One such example I have here: the assertion has been made – these are the most common numbers I see over and over again when you look up, like, Barbie’s proportions in real life — people will say that her measurements would be 36-18-33. Compared to the average 19-year-old — I don’t know how they got that average; this is just what this particular project has done, by creating a new doll with measurements that would be 32-31-33. And I look at these two dolls and I’m like, “My body has definitely been more similar to Barbie than the, quote, ‘average 19-year-old.’” And so the fact that people are saying that this doll… the fact that kids are exposed to this doll is harmful to their mental wellbeing and their internal sense of self and their body image is kind of weird for me.
Royce: Because you can extrapolate that and say that you existing in society is also causing harm.
Royce: Right? That’s the thing, is people are varied. I was looking up some statistics as well. I also saw the measurements that you just read off being listed as the measurements of the original doll released in 1959, which was made with a 6-to-1 play scale and would be 5′9” equivalent, blown up to human proportions.
Royce: In similar reading, I did not see people say that it would be impossible for a person to be naturally born that way. I saw that it was one out of 100,000 people.
Courtney: Interesting. So here’s the thing. I happen to have my measurements from when I got signed to a modeling agency. My measurements were 38-24-38. So I had bigger boobs and hips than Barbie and only six inches larger on my waist.
Royce: The proportions were closer to Barbie, as you said, in terms of the ratio between waist to the other body parts —
Royce: — than the average doll.
Courtney: Yes. Yes. And on top of that… And, I mean, I’m not 5′9”. I am, like, 5′6” and a half. [laughs] I think at one point… Yeah, I’m, like, 5′6” and a half. So, round up or down as you will. But there are also just certain things about my body that are just inherently disproportionate in a way that most people — being an Asexual, in a sexual society, where a lot of people have sexualized me over time, I know people find it a sexually appealing feature. Like, my legs are way longer than they should be for my height, and that’s something I think we talked a little bit about when we did the episode on Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Because, like, Royce, how tall are you?
Royce: I’m 5′11”.
Courtney: So you’re 5′11”, but our belly buttons are, like, at the same height. [laughs]
Royce: Yeah, our hips line up even though I’m 5 inches taller.
Courtney: Yes. So my leg to torso ratio is wild.
Royce: And —
Courtney: Abnormally so
Royce: And statistically abnormal body proportions is part of the EDS diagnostic criteria — or it’s at least something that comes up frequently with those diagnoses.
Courtney: Yes. Well, and my hands and feet are also smaller than you would expect them to be for my height. Which is another thing. I mean, people will say that, “Oh, Barbie would only have a size 3 foot.” Like, my feet aren’t size 3, but they are significantly shorter than you’d expect them to be at 5′6” and a half.
Royce: With as variable as the human body is, you can’t take any one form and expect that to represent everyone.
Royce: So diversity in media or in material, like toys like these, is important. Also, there is the notion that sometimes things are not meant to be realistic. Sometimes things are stylized. There are a lot of particularly drawn media, artwork, comics that have exaggerated proportions as a standard part of the medium, and I don’t know if it’s really fair to say that any unrealistic depiction of a human form is inherently dangerous.
Courtney: Well, and that’s the really, really fascinating thing, too. Because there’s this sort of air of feminism around these critiques — like, “This is harmful to young girls. It’s a problem, and you should be against it because it is hurting their mental health.” Like, yes, anyone who cares about young girls is going to hear something impassioned like that and be like, “What is hurting young girls? Yes, we do need to stop it!” I think that’s a natural impulse. That’s a natural desire, right?
Courtney: And there are definitely arguments to be made that there does need to be more diversity in everything, and there are more efforts these days than when I was a child to incorporate diversity like that. And every now and then, in my adult life, I’ve seen an article like, “This company made the first doll with Down syndrome.” “This company made the first doll in a wheelchair,” and trying to incorporate, like, disabilities and facial differences, even limb differences, things like that, so that people who do have, I guess, non-average bodies — that sounds terrible. But I’m looking at this doll — and we’ll put this in the show notes so you can look at this doll too — I’m looking at this, quote, “average 19-year-old girl,” and it’s like, “I don’t know a lot of people [laughing] that look exactly like that either.” So even if you’re taking averages and saying, like, “This is better for the average person,” that is never going to represent everybody.
Courtney: And Barbie is such an icon, and she is stylish, and she is in some ways very aspirational. And I think that’s where the critique comes from — where we shouldn’t be forcing someone to aspire to this ideal if that’s not natural for their body to look that way. But I will say, having the proportions that I do, especially when I was a teenager, being Barbie-esque is not a walk in the park. It is not a good thing. There are still so many things in society that tell me, especially as an Asexual person, that this society was not made for me. And that’s very weird, too. Because I think — like, if Barbie were a person, right, if she were a human, people would be like, “Barbie has privilege.” But if Barbie was a real human, like, 36-18, she probably couldn’t shop at Victoria’s Secret. [laughing] They probably don’t have a cup size big enough for her, you know?
Courtney: Because those are some issues that I dealt with, right? Like, everyone would be like, “Oh, you’ve got such a small waist and large boobs! Must be nice.” It’s like, no, absolutely not, because I can’t find a bra that fits. I can’t shop anywhere for normal clothes. I can’t wear anything V-neck because people will think that it’s inappropriate or too sexy. I’ll get, like, dress-coded at school for the exact same thing someone who has a flatter chest is wearing, but on me it’s sexual; it’s not sexual on them. So I do vehemently reject that just because Barbie looks that way, she is sexual.
Courtney: Because — that’s a little personal. Because to me, the proportions… Like, I do look more like her than the other doll. I did [laughing] when I was younger, the difference being both of these dolls are white and blonde. Lighter skin, lighter hair: that’s the difference for me. So it’s like, I’m not blonde. I did the bottle blonde thing for a little bit, but I was mostly trying to go, like, silvery gray, and I got there for a little bit, but that takes a lot to maintain, [laughing] so I did not stay there for long.
Courtney: And then I’ve started looking up some studies on whether or not Barbie is harmful to young girls. And I’m not a scientist who studies this type of thing. So, I don’t know, maybe I’m wildly off-base, but I’m going to present it to you and our audience and we can talk about it together, because there are parts of these studies that just seem so reductive and flawed to me.
Royce: That’s interesting. Before we get into it, I want to say that my assumptions, before hearing any information, is that, yes, growing up in a society with rigid body image expectations and the whole… I don’t know how to phrase this, but, like, how important your appearance is, or is expected to be, in many aspects of our society — that can absolutely be harmful. I think that oftentimes, adults underestimate the thought process of children.
Royce: As a child who grew up playing violent video games —
Royce: — when, politicians were telling parents, like, “Oh, don’t let your children play anything even roughly adult. It’s going to turn them violent.” Like, I think that adults oftentimes underestimate the reasoning capacity of children, even very young children.
Courtney: Yes. Yes. I would agree with that, yes. And I think Barbie really, really had a moment. And I think it started in the mid-2000s, as I said — at least, when I started getting wind of these very specific talking points. And ever since then, there have been articles, there have been psychological op-eds, there have been studies trying to get to the bottom of whether or not Barbie is harmful for kids. And I think Barbie’s just kind of the easy symbol to attack. Because Barbie can be a part of an entire system that messes kids up, [laughing] but I don’t think it is just Barbie. And I think to look at it in a vacuum like this and be like, “We’re studying Barbie’s impact on children’s body image,” it’s like, well, what else are those kids being exposed to?
Royce: Yeah. If you go through the thought experiment, what if Barbie didn’t exist? Would these problems still exist?
Courtney: And would there be different problems? Because, you mentioned earlier, Barbie was created in 1959. She was created by a woman who was a mother, and the goal of Barbie was to allow young girls a chance to see themselves and play in professional jobs that, traditionally, women couldn’t have — like, Barbie can be a doctor, Barbie can be a veterinarian, Barbie can be all these, you know, successful jobs. Because before Barbie — and I don’t think most people realize this — the biggest option for kids to play with, for young girls especially, dolls were baby dolls. You were taking a young child — four, five, six, maybe up to eight or eleven — and saying, “You can play with a baby to practice being a mother.”
Royce: Alongside the pretend at-home cooking sets.
Courtney: [laughing] Well, yeah. [laughs]
Royce: The functional ones and non-functional ones, just like prop food, play house.
Courtney: Which are so much older than people give them credit for, also. Because I kid you not: in the Victorian era, 1800s, there was, like, a miniature cast-iron stove that young girls could play with, like, in their bedrooms.
Royce: How —
Courtney: It was seriously, like, a Victorian Easy-Bake Oven. [laughs]
Royce: You told me about this. How did you say it was fueled? Was it gas?
Courtney: Coal. [laughs]
Royce: Coal. That’s even better.
Courtney: [laughing] Of course it was coal! But, yeah, Victorian-era coal-powered Easy-Bake Oven for the girls to play with. [laughs] So, yeah. And like, obviously, baby dolls still exist. And there are some young kids who know as kids — or think, at least, as young kids — that they do eventually want to be a parent. Or they could even be older siblings, or they could become older siblings, and just have to interact with babies in their life. [laughing] So I’m not saying baby dolls are problematic. But I am saying that Barbie did break open a whole new world for, you know, girls’ imaginations, for a new toy as a new avenue. Because that’s what play is for children, right? They’re learning about themselves. They’re learning about the world. They’re envisioning the future. They’re envisioning futures that could exist.
Courtney: And that’s something we say all the time in the queer community, is that we need representation because young queer folks need to see the opportunities that exist for them. They need to see that there is a place for them in this world. And Barbie was kind of a big, big, big entryway for young girls to know that they don’t have to just be mothers. They can be young, they can have fun, and they can have professional jobs. And they can be anything they want to be. You can dress them up and play an experiment with the different types of a person that Barbie can be.
Courtney: And I think we need to consider that in here, because of all the things that could possibly give young children a negative body image, we’re attacking the one that’s also telling them that they can be anything they want to be [laughs] — like, especially young girls. And that’s why I think just having a symbol like this, that’s such a strong talking point that evokes such strong emotional reactions in people, is kind of weird. It’s kind of weird to me.
Courtney: Because I will say as well… And we are still — never fear, dear listeners — we are still going to get to that boobs episode someday. [laughs] It is going to happen, because I have a lot to say that is even outside of the scope of this episode. But I will say, having had Barbies, I don’t think Barbie did anything to me. And I don’t know that I’m one to talk, because I look at the Barbie versus the quote “average” doll and I’m like, “I literally did look more like Barbie.” Like, that is true. So maybe I don’t have a leg to stand on there.
Courtney: But you know the things that did mess me up? Being the first kid in my grade to need a bra. [laughs] Being the only one in the locker room at gym class wearing a bra. Wearing an ill-fitting bra, because my mom didn’t really know how to shop for me at that young of an age, because I started developing sooner than anyone realized. So a lot of my first bras were, like, garage sale bras that were kind of close enough, maybe, but they were ill-fitting, they were awkward. I was the only one. Those things messed me up.
Courtney: As soon as I had immediately, like, swelled to triple-D, [laughing] like, over a summer, then I started having people in my life, older women mostly, saying things like, “Well, you know, you really should start sleeping in your bra, because if you don’t, your boobs are going to sag earlier. [And since you developed so early, you know, you don’t want to be in your 20s and 30s [laughing] with saggy boobs.” And it’s like, that messed me up so much more than any doll I was playing with a few years earlier could have, you know? I’d also been told at one point — as still a child, mind you — that another reason to sleep in a bra is like, “What if your house burns down in the middle of the night and, like, a firefighter has to come and save you and see you in your pajamas? Like, you have to be presentable for these firemen who are going to save your life if your house burns down.” [laughs] And this was not a joke. This was said to me in all seriousness. So I was like, “Oh my gosh! My biggest fear is not my house burning down. My biggest fear is a firefighter seeing me without a bra!” [laughs] It was ridiculous.
Courtney: Which was also something that was really shitty to say to someone who did actually have, like, quite literally PTSD related to burning buildings [laughs] as a child. I was like, “Oh gosh, yeah, I’m already horrified that I’m going to die in a fire. I’m already horrified that, you know, I’m going to be at the top of a burning building and I’ll have to decide whether or not I burn alive or jump out of the building,” and having literal PTSD episodes about this. And then adult women in my life are like, “But even if you get saved, you gotta be presentable for the fireman.” I’m like, “Great! Let’s add that onto the pile of anxiety, why don’t we?”
Royce: For those of you who aren’t connecting the dots, being a child during 9/11 has left a mark on a lot of people.
Courtney: Yeah. And [laughing] I don’t want to get into this whole everything story. I really do not. Because I was not at 9/11. [laughs] I don’t want to take away from people who were or people who had family members who did actually either die or survive; both are traumatic. But there actually are studies out there that people have genuinely developed secondary PTSD as a result of the extensive news coverage if they were exposed to the news coverage below a certain age. And when I read these studies that I was like, “Yes. You are not crazy. People did actually get PTSD from this, even if they weren’t directly involved,” I was like, “Oh, thank goodness. [laughs] Because now I actually have language to explain this thing.”
Courtney: But I mean, to make matters more complicated, it’s like, [laughing] that wasn’t my only source of drama at a young age either. I’ve been collecting them throughout my life. But, like, quite literally, having body proportions like this were… it was part of it. Because after these ill-fitting garage sale bras didn’t work, and I’d also grown quite a bit so they didn’t fit me anymore, my mom did take me to Victoria’s Secret. And they pulled me into the dressing room, and they measured me, and they were like, “We don’t have a single bra that will fit you.” And my mom was like, “That’s weird. Why?” And they’re like, “Well, first of all, your band size is too small. We don’t have bands that go down that low. And also, your cup size is too big. We don’t have cup sizes that go that big. [laughing] Both!”
Courtney: And, like, that has the ability to mess someone up — like, on an individual level, not a broader society level, than playing with a certain doll. Because that is, you know, here’s a very well-known brand, a very established brand that’s in most malls; it was really the only place to go bra shopping in my city, really, at the time, other than, like, the bra sections of, you know, your Walmarts, your Targets — which, we tried there first, and it didn’t work. So that’s why they were like, “Let’s go get a real professional fitting from Victoria’s Secret, where they’ll measure you and give you the right size.” And they were like, “Nope, got nothing for you.”
Courtney: And that wasn’t going to change. I was already so young. I was maybe… I was maybe 11 when I was in the Victoria’s Secret and they were like, “No, your boobs are too big. And even if they weren’t, we don’t have a band size small enough.” Or it’s like, “Okay, what am I supposed to do? I have to wear a bra! I have to be presentable for the firemen who are going to rescue my life when my house burns down!” [laughs] So just really, really weird things like that.
Courtney: And so for all these people who look at Barbie and say, you know, “She’s giving girls an unrealistic body type,” it’s like, the number of people who have told me in my life that they wish that they had my body, every single time, I’m like, “No, you don’t. You do not know. You don’t know.” You see my Barbie-esque body and you’re like, “Yes, society has told me I should have that body,” but to live in it is a completely different story.
Courtney: And so I do want to get into these studies, and I do want to reference — which we’ll put down in the show notes — a paper called “Barbie: The Real Enemy?” by Shelby Wolfinger. And the paper, to me, is a little bit… a little bit all over the place. I think the scope either needed to be narrowed a touch or things needed to be longer and extrapolated on better. Because it does have just sort of a brief little history of Barbie. But then I think, perhaps a little out of place for the scope of this paper, she starts talking about pro-ana. Is that a term you’re familiar with, Royce?
Courtney: Ana, short for anorexic. So we’re talking about very, very serious eating disorders. But the pro-ana community is people who… well, like it says, they’re pro-ana. They have this very serious eating disorder, this very serious medical condition, but they do not want help. They are not seeking help. In fact, they’re instead seeking a community of people like them where they can all sort of encourage each other to continue this very dangerous lifestyle and thought pattern.
Courtney: And the reason why I think it’s a little out of left field is because that is such a serious thing to just drop for a few paragraphs and then go on to “Here are studies about kids who play with Barbies.” Like, to me, I think that would be much better suited in a paper that was a little more about actual eating disorders, because it’s such a serious mental health issue that I think really, really needs strong consideration when discussing it.
Courtney: So it sort of just states that there are these pro-ana websites, and “While not every Pro Ana website mentions the Barbie Doll, there are many who do mention Barbie.” And it does say that, “While Barbie has not been directly tied into Pro Ana activists, one enraged mother expressed concern in 2007 about a new line of Barbie dolls.” Now, this new line of Barbie dolls were cheerleaders, and there is, you know, sort of the standard white blonde Barbie, but there’s also a Black Barbie cheerleader. There’s a third Barbie with black hair and a, you know, more medium skin tone, darker than the white Barbie that most people think of at first thought.
Courtney: And… here’s another thing. Obviously, the issue I have with just “Here’s a couple of quick paragraphs about the pro-ana movement,” which I think is wildly out of place in this paper: just citing a single concerned mother in 2007. I am sick of the single concerned mothers. I am sick to death of the single concerned mothers — especially today, especially in 2013. Did I just say 2013? 2023. [laughs] In this, the year 2013. [laughs]
Courtney: So in this, the year 2023, literally, we have a handful of conservative mothers who are complaining to schools and getting queer books torn off of shelves, getting BIPOC stories torn off of shelves. I just read, like — also literally just yesterday — that a single concerned mother in Florida complained about Amanda Gorman’s poem from the presidential inauguration was available in the library and said that that was horribly problematic and she didn’t want her child exposed to it. And they took it out of the library! Are you kidding me? I am sick of the single concerned mothers. Most single concerned mothers do not know what they’re talking about. [laughs] I’m sorry to all of the single concerned mothers out there.
Courtney: But there are actually groups — coordinated, organized groups of mothers — that do very good work. There’s, like, Moms Demand Action against gun violence, which to me, I’m like, “Yes, gun violence is a concern. Too many kids are being shot in schools in this country. Let’s maybe try to fix that!” That is so much more dangerous than a poem. But we’re going to try to not make this a Courtney political rant hour.
Courtney: But anyway, this single — this “one enraged mother expressed concern in 2007 stating that these are Pro Ana dolls. She declares that this line of dolls were made to directly influence young children to consider anorexia as an alternative to dating —” Dating. [correcting] “ — dieting and exercising.”
Royce: Now, where does that thought come from? The thought that the dolls were created for this purpose?
Courtney: Easy scapegoat. Like I said, Barbie is such an easy symbol to attack, as a thing. And I do want more diversity in dolls and toys and media in general everywhere. But again, even if there is a pro-ana group out there that does idolize Barbie, to me, that’s probably a symptom rather than a cause.
Royce: Well, yeah. I was looking over some of this material as you’ve been going through these papers, and the one that I’m looking at was published in 1996. It’s called “Ken and Barbie at Life Size.” And I’m just looking at the abstract, and it points out the probability for someone to be approximately Barbie’s body shape is less than 2 in 1,000. But then it says, “Ken is more realistic at about 1 in 50.”
Courtney: [laughing] Interesting.
Royce: Trying to show the difference. But this is all based off of proportions.
Royce: And if you were to dig into that more and look at Ken’s facial structure or his visible abs, some of those are much less commonly naturally represented.
Royce: And then you get much more into Hollywood symptoms.
Royce: How every male action movie star has a body type that they have to strenuously work for —
Royce: — and can really only hold up for a short amount of time —
Royce: — because of calorie restrictions or dehydrations or abundant exercise.
Royce: Which, those are also unrealistic.
Courtney: Yes! And so after that sort of primer, the paper says, “My thesis is exploring the possibility that Barbie can cause long term effects on women. If this is true, then there is a possibility that Barbie is a factor in the Pro Ana Movement. Also, if the makers of Barbie are advertising for Pro Ana and people start to see that, it may cause an increased body dissatisfaction within women.” I don’t know what corporate Barbie looks like these days [laughs], but corporations are evil, so I’m not giving them a straight pass. But I don’t think there are executives here being like, “Let’s make kids anorexic.” [laughs] And to make the claim that they are intentionally trying to do that is wild.
Royce: Yeah, I have no idea where that’s coming from. I absolutely believe that during the design process, attempts to arrive at a more widely represented shape may have been rebuffed, and I think that we’ve seen that in reports of, again, Hollywood and media —
Royce: — where oftentimes, critiques will be, “No, no, make things appear more stereotypically attractive.”
Royce: “Let’s not deviate from that. That’s what sells. That’s what we know sells. That is what we’re going to go with.” So I’m sure that that’s part of it. But I struggle to find the link to this nefarious plot of eating disorders as well.
Courtney: Right! Well, because it’s all of society, right? And goes back to my point of what else are these kids being studied being exposed to, right? Because the doll could be one piece of a giant puzzle. Because… you talk about Hollywood too. It’s like, it’s not just that kids are playing with these dolls. They’re also seeing movies and TV shows where all of the people do tend to have these unrealistic body expectations.
Royce: Yeah. I’ve heard that it’s basically an expectation that if you’re in media of a decent enough size, you have had some sort of cosmetic surgery.
Courtney: Oh, a tremendous amount have. And a lot of, you know, Hollywood — even childhood actors will start getting plastic surgery in their teens, while their faces are still developing into the shape it will ultimately be, because doing things incrementally over time will make it less obvious. And a tremendous number of people that you see in Hollywood have cosmetic surgery. Which is not inherently a bad thing. I don’t — I’m not demonizing cosmetic surgery; I think it’s a great option for certain people. But there’s sort of an air of secrecy around it in Hollywood. There aren’t a lot of actors and actresses that have these very aspirational bodies and faces that are talking about all of the medical intervention that is being done to keep them looking that way.
Courtney: And, like you said, for, you know, very muscular, like, actors who are in superhero movies. They have such intense regimens. But it’s not just working out. It’s also dehydrating yourself. Because if you’re properly hydrated, you are not that cut. I’ve had friends that are bodybuilders and will be in, you know, swimsuit competitions for, you know, physique and body proportion. And it’s like, their regimen leading up to that is so ridiculous. It is not sustainable long0term. And a month or two months after their competition, they’re looking like a more regular person again. They’re still obviously very strong, they’re still very fit, but they don’t have that muscle tone or definition anymore, because you need to dehydrate yourself to get that!
Royce: And that’s one thing that I think people don’t always realize, because there are certain appearances that people look at and just assume is healthy. Sometimes people who are in bodybuilder shape may meet the definitions for being anorexic.
Royce: At least at certain stages, if they’re trying to cut down on fat. Sometimes people who are very athletic may have nutrient deficiencies. Because there are eating disorders that, you know, run the spectrum. It’s not just about being very thin.
Courtney: Yeah. And that’s actually an interesting thing, too. Because I think, at least from doing sort of research into Barbie and this emerging discourse of her that started around the mid-2000s, I think maybe the usage of the word “anorexic” has either evolved or, in some cases, might have been misused, also. Because I’m seeing so many things from this era where people are like, “If Barbie were a real person, her BMI would be this, and she would be considered anorexic.” And I don’t think… like, anorexia — and I am speaking, also, as someone who has dealt with and recovered from eating disorders — it isn’t just having a low body mass index. Which, I know how antiquated that is, but this is what everybody — that’s the language people use to talk about this.
Royce: Well, did I just misspeak then? I was under the impression that the classification for anorexia was calorie-based. It was…
Courtney: It is a restriction of food intake, so it very well could be. But it’s normally associated with the poor mental health and thought patterns that goes with, like, a visceral fear of gaining weight. Sometimes it also is paired with, like, body dysmorphia — like, you yourself have an incorrect perception of what you look like, or distorted somehow, And all cases can be different.
Courtney: But anorexia is also just sort of the eating disorder that most people know about, but there is a lot of different types of disordered eating out there. And there is actually, you know, muscle dysmorphia, where you’re not necessarily thinking, “Oh, I think I look fatter than I am, and that is causing me distress.” It could be, like, “My muscles aren’t as big as they are,” or “I think my muscles are too small.” So that can come with calorie restriction or increased protein. That can turn into disordered eating and can also accompany, like, really intense gym regimens as well, so.
Courtney: And that’s not necessarily always gendered. Obviously, we know that gender is not a binary, but I think the stereotype and the bulk of the numbers — or what most people would think — is like, “Oh, well, you know, women have anorexia where men have, you know, muscle dysmorphia or something else along those lines.” But the lines do blur. And sometimes they can go hand in hand as well.
Royce: Right. Those are just following gendered stereotypes, body expectations, those sorts of things.
Royce: And, yes, muscle dysmorphia was what I was thinking of, along with: if anorexia was simply classified as a calorie restriction, there are absolutely times where that can happen as a result of a wide variety of disordered eating behaviors.
Courtney: Yes. So this paper says that “Many people blame the Barbie doll for a variety of negative effects,” and that “People believe that Barbie is the root cause for the effects based on the size of her body.” So the hypothesis of this paper revolves around the fact that there are negative effects resulting from early childhood play with Barbie dolls. And again, saying Barbie is the root, I think, is to dismiss a lot of other social cues that are telling children that they should aspire to unrealistic expectations. Because even think of children’s media. There is so much fatphobia in, like, children’s shows and children’s books, still to this day, [laughing] but was probably even worse when we were kids.
Royce: It does make me wonder again; if Barbie didn’t exist, these same people growing up — would there have just been another figure that was responsible for the same effect?
Courtney: Yeah! And it is not just one thing. It’s society at every turn telling you the same thing and reinforcing this over and over again. So that’s where I think all these studies sort of get something wrong right off the bat. But there was a 2006 study titled “Does Barbie Make Girls Want to Be Thin? The Effect of Experimental Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5- to 8-Year-Old Girls.” And in this, there were three groups of children made up entirely of girls. One was the Barbie group, one they called the Emme group, and then a neutral control group. And the study created picture books. And they read these stories aloud to these groups of girls. And so the Barbie group essentially had a story with the image of Barbie in it. And the Emme group had a doll called Emme, who is described here as “proportioned to have a more normal body type, rather than the thin body type that Barbie has.” And after they got read these stories, they went to assess the girls’ body images.
Courtney: Now, I already think this is interesting, because they have five- to eight-year-old girls. Some girls do develop a sense of body image by age eight, but not everybody does. And there are some girls — I mean, all kids really, but in this case, they’re studying girls — that don’t actually develop an internal sense of body image until closer to 11. And that is different per person, but doing, you know, five- to eight-year-old, I wonder if every single child in this study even had their own internal body image with which to study it.
Courtney: And the way they determined this is also questionable to me in the language that they use, because here’s how they decided what these children’s body dissatisfaction was. They asked the girls to pick out a doll that represented their current body image. Then they asked the girls to pick out a doll that represented their desired body image, what they want to look like. And then they asked the girls to pick out a doll what they want their body image to look like as an adult.
Courtney: And the study’s first major result was that girls who saw the Barbie doll images had an increased body dissatisfaction compared to the girls who saw other images.
Royce: And what do they mean by that? Do they mean that the differences between the dolls that they chose were larger?
Courtney: They assessed body dissatisfaction as: how different is the doll that they picked as their current body image versus their desired body image?
Courtney: Like, how different are these two dolls? The more different they are, the more they considered it a higher body dissatisfaction.
Royce: Right. And from what you’re looking at, did it appear that basically the average behavior here was to pick the body that they had just seen, roughly?
Courtney: That was kind of the impression I got.
Royce: Because it’s in your memory, right? Like, you were just exposed to it.
Royce: And so, if you —
Courtney: And was it a really exciting story?
Courtney: Was it a happy story?
Royce: The other thing I’m curious about — because this is one story in isolation, and again, what I think what we need in society and media in all forms is just more diversity, because you’re not just seeing one body type over and over again. But I would be curious to see if, in a study like this, having been exposed to other imagery, if your perception of your own body started to drift.
Courtney: Mmm. Yeah. That could be. But yes. And also, as a result of this study, they found that the Emme group, which was what they called the “more average-looking image,” girls in that group had the same level of body dissatisfaction as the girls in the neutral group. However, it seems that the effects are dependent on the age of the girls. The older girls, aged seven-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half, saw less of a detrimental impact, which I think is interesting, because I almost would have expected that to go up with age.
Royce: Oh, I think this makes sense to me. I think that if… I’m guessing, without having this study in front of me, without looking at the numbers, that a younger child would be more susceptible to visual bias.
Royce: Being shown an image and then reflecting that image in an upcoming choice.
Royce: You happen to have the population numbers on that study on hand? Did you read over how many people were studied? Just out of curiosity.
Courtney: On that study, no, I didn’t see numbers. Oh, actually, yes: 162 girls, aged five to eight. Which, three years doesn’t sound like much, but there is a huge difference between a five-year-old and an eight-year-old.
Royce: Yeah, that’s a period of pretty rapid development.
Courtney: Rapid development. So I almost think those age ranges are a little too wide [laughing] for that study. But there are a couple of other studies cited here, which, if you’d like to read, you can read it in the show notes. But there was an essay-based one with both boys and girls who were a bit older — like 10, 11 range — on just what their perceptions are of Barbie and just some interesting factors. Like, there was a boy who was like, “I think Barbie helps girls know that they can be anything they want to be.” And it’s like, that’s kind of what the original intention was [laughing] for Barbie back in 1959. But obviously, lots of girls had very fond memories of playing with Barbie.
Courtney: And there were some kids around this age that did express concerns about body diversity. And this is where I’m a little bit conflicted. Because I believe that 10-, 11-year-old boys and girls are capable of coming to these conclusions on their own. But I also believe that some 10-, 11-year-old kids probably have heard adults or other people in media say that Barbie has a negative impact on body image.
Courtney: And they could be parroting it.
Royce: I can say that when I was 10 or 11, sure, there were things that I cared about, that I had my own opinions about, and then there were other things that I had never really thought about critically,and my opinion was what I had heard last —
Royce: — from a person whose opinion I respected.
Courtney: Yes. And I mean, I think that’s a little bit true for most people of most ages. [laughs]
Royce: It’s just, the longer you’ve lived, the more time you’ve had to think critically.
Courtney: And develop your own opinions on a wider variety of things. Because more people are comfortable parroting talking points from someone that they respect than to say, “I haven’t really thought about it” or “I don’t have an opinion,” especially when asked a direct question. Like, researchers are coming in to these 10-year-olds, especially 10-year-old boys — who most of them said that they did have some kind of experience with Barbie, but it wasn’t as often or as direct or hands-on as the girls in most cases — to be, like, a 10-year-old boy and pulled into a room and be like, “Now what’s your opinion on the Barbie?”
Courtney: And then there was another study entitled “The Effects of Playing with Thin Dolls on Body Image and Food Intake in Young Girls.” And this one tried to do a little more than the story-based study. It was 117 girls, all of them between first and fourth grade, and they actually had the girls playing with the dolls. So they had a Barbie doll and then they had an Emme doll. But the Emme doll they realized was quite a bit taller than the Barbie doll — like, she had, quote, “more average proportions,” but the doll itself was also just physically bigger than the Barbie. So they made a third doll that was the same height as Emme but had proportions more similar to Barbie, to try to account for that potential difference.
Courtney: And the study was taking the girls into a separate room where they got either a Barbie doll, an Emme doll, or the third kind of hybrid Tyler doll, or no dolls at all, they got Legos. And if they had a doll, they were asked to dress the dolls for work and then for a party. And if they had Legos, they were just asked to build a house. And they got 10 minutes of playtime. And then they were asked to fill out a survey about their body esteem and their satisfaction with their own body image.
Courtney: After they were given this survey, they were then given three pre-proportioned bowls of chocolate-covered peanuts, where it says here “Each bowl had a different color, and the girls were given eight minutes alone with the bowls to taste them and decide which one was their favorite. After the eight minutes, the examiners gave the girls a questionnaire asking about their interests.”
Courtney: I am not in this field, [laughing] so maybe there’s something I am very unfamiliar with. But, dolls aside, it seems weird to give them a survey about how they view their own bodies and then be like, “Here’s chocolate-covered peanuts.” It’s almost like setting them up to overthink, you know? At least that’s what I would have been doing as a child. I’d be like, “Oh no, these things are connected. Someone’s asking me about my body, and now they’re giving me food. It’s a trap! [laughing] Don’t eat the food!”
Royce: What was the reasoning behind the different colors of chocolate peanuts?
Courtney: Does not say. I don’t know if they were just trying to add a control, like, “Oh, did you pick this because it’s your favorite color?” But then it gets kind of odd, because the results being concluded here are that “the children viewed both Barbie and Tyler as being significantly thinner and slimmer than Emme.” Well, yes, they literally are, and children can see that. But “They also found that older girls had less body dissatisfaction than the younger girls,” based on the survey, which does coincide with the previous study that kind of found the same thing, that older girls were a little better off.
Courtney: But then it goes on to say that “While there were discrepancies with body esteem, it seemed to have been related to the girls’ BMI and not the dolls. It was found that girls with a higher BMI had lower body esteem. 48.7% of the girls aspired to have a thinner body size, and only 35.9% of the girls were satisfied with their bodies.” So that’s kind of like… Again, I am sad about that. BMI is, again, such a weird thing, because I hate it and I wish we could just throw it out altogether. But it is used constantly, still, by doctors, it’s constantly cited in studies, so it still has to be a thing that, like, crosses our lips that we talk about, because it is tracked. It’s just… not all it’s cracked up to be, [laughs] shall we say.
Courtney: But — so here, they did not find that the lower self-esteem had anything to do with playing with the dolls. And, yeah, I get that. Because, aside from your point where younger kids might just have the thing most recently in their head at the forefront that they might in some ways be copying, playing with a doll for 10 minutes is not going to change what is already your internal sense of self. Even if you’re a child and you’re still developing, like, 10 minutes of playtime with a Barbie that you’ve probably already played with in your life, [laughing] if you’re a girl of that age. I just, I don’t know. [laughing] I think the entire concept is odd for that reason.
Courtney: But despite the body satisfaction, the one thing they did find that, for the sake of this paper, is being used as an argument that Barbie does have a negative impact on kids is that, quote, “When it came to food intake levels, it was found that there was no correlation to BMI levels.” BMI being what they found the pattern to be for dissatisfaction, which again, makes me sad. But in the society we’re in, like I said, children’s media’s terrible with the fatphobia. It’s dreadful. So of course, fatter children are going to have tons of different things in their life telling them that their body is lesser somehow. And that shouldn’t be the case. It needs to be fixed. But it’s not a surprise, because we live in a fatphobic society.
Courtney: But they did take this to mean that “the effects on the food intake of the girls were based solely on the dolls they played with. Age also did not impact whether or not the girls consumed more food.” And there’s a chart here, and it kind of shows that the girls who played with thin dolls versus the girls who played with no dolls had sort of the same food intake for grams, which looks to be about 32 or 33 grams of food, whereas the girls who played with average-sized dolls, on average, ate closer to 45 grams of food. Which is still weird to me, because of the control group being Legos being on par with the thin dolls. I’m trying to formulate my thoughts around that. They’re almost there.
Courtney: But this paper says “These three studies are proof that Barbie has an effect on young children.” And “It can be seen that the girls who played with the average-sized doll ate a considerably higher amount of food, and those who played with Barbie or no doll ate much less.” It’s like, well, how do you affect the no doll? Are Legos harmful to girls? [laughs] Are Legos pro-ana? [laughs] I don’t know. I am not a scientist, and yet I’m reading through this and I’m like, “I don’t think this is saying what you’re saying it’s saying. Not exactly.”
Royce: Yeah, I don’t really know what to make about that without further conclusions being made from it. You said this was, like, 160 people?
Courtney: This one was slightly less. This study was 117.
Royce: Okay. Yeah, without someone drawing out the picture a little more clearly for me, I feel like this is a case where, if we really dug into the methodology, there’s some other reason.
Courtney: Well, yeah. And I’m wondering too, like, what time of day was this?
Royce: I was gonna say —
Courtney: Was this the same time of day for everyone? What did they eat before they came?
Royce: That was my thought. Did the test group that played with the normal sized dolls [laughing] have to wait in the waiting room for a bit longer?
Courtney: Well, I don’t really know. And it could be any number of things. But they had the Legos, which was no doll at all, and they were right on par with the girls who had the thin dolls. So it might be a different story if the Legos and the average-sized doll were both on par, but the thin doll was way down, then that might be something to look into a little further. But yeah, and it also says, like, “These are 117 girls between first and fourth grade.” First and fourth grade is also a big difference for those ages. Were the younger kids eating more? Were the older kids eating more?
Royce: Were they evenly distributed throughout the test groups?
Courtney: Yeah. So, I mean, I have so many questions. [laughs] But this paper goes on to talk about… “The Mind of the Adolescent,” is the section, and it starts to talk about gender roles. And it’s very reductive. [laughs] It’s: “Females tend to identify more with feminine culture while males are more identifiable with masculine concepts.” So we know that that’s lacking a tremendous amount of nuance right off the bat.
Courtney: But it talks about gender roles, gender stereotypes, but then it immediately goes into sexuality. And thanks, I hate it. Body image [laughing] and sexuality can be two very separate things. And again, there is an issue of projecting sex onto something where the sex is not present, like Barbie. Barbie could be completely innocent, and yet society sexualizes her because of these proportions. I think that is a problem.
Courtney: But: “All of this gender identity,” it says, “stereotypes and roles leads to sexual scripts. Sexual scripts
Courtney: are the norms that people find socially acceptable when it comes to sexual activity and finding,” quote, “‘eligible sexual partners.’ These socially acceptable sexual scripts are reaching younger audiences, girls aged seven and eight. These scripts are reinforcing the ideals that women should be valued on their beauty instead of their brains or personality. An example of this is padded bras. In retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Amazon, there are padded bras being sold to seven and eight year olds. These fashion trends along with the hypersexualization of girls in the media is enforcing thin ideals. The people benefiting from this are the marketers who have convinced these young girls that being beautiful requires the proper look – the right hairstyle, clothes, and makeup.” And then it talks about the person who built a life-size Barbie doll and what her proportions were and all that.
Courtney: But… I don’t think ideal — quote, “ideal body image” is inherently tied to sexuality. I, as well as many other people I know, have developed eating disorders that have been completely removed from sexuality. It hasn’t been with the desire to appeal to a sexual partner. It hasn’t been with that in mind at all. It can come from a completely internal sense of self and mental illness. And so immediately equating this with that, I think, is misguided.
Courtney: But also, padded bras are being sold to girls age seven and eight. When I was eight and I had my ill-fitting garage sale bras that were not padded, I probably could have benefited from a padded bra, because I grew really, really fast. And the first time I got my still ill-fitting padded bra, it was a step up from what I had had before, because I did actually need that little bit of extra support. So, saying that a padded bra is inherently sexual is weird to me. Because they’re not even saying a push-up bra; they’re just saying a padded bra. And there are different things with, like, comfort, with support, with size, what is available in your size that can all contribute to that. That doesn’t have anything to do with sex. It just has to do with personal comfort.
Courtney: And the idea that these are being sold to girls age seven and eight? They aren’t being sold to girls seven and eight. They’re being sold to their mothers, to their aunts, to their grandmothers, to whatever adult in their life is helping them shop for bras. And that, again, goes back to my point of what else are these girls seeing? What else are they hearing? What are people directly in their lives telling them? And what are they seeing on TV? What are they seeing, these days, on YouTube? Hypersexualization of girls is a problem, but I don’t think selling them a bra is.
Courtney: It just… I don’t know. The fact that this is now being lumped in in a study that’s supposed to be saying that Barbie is harmful for girls. Well, now you’re kind of expanding the scope of it to say that there are these other things, and it’s like, Barbie didn’t cause Amazon to start selling padded bras. [laughs] You know? There are nuances here that are being fundamentally missed and, like, largely brushed over.
Royce: If anything, the addition of things like that is making me wary of confirmation bias by the researchers.
Courtney: Yeah. Because, like, to me, if there’s an eight-year-old who, like me, developed large breasts very quickly at a very young age and they are more comfortable and better fit in a padded bra, I want that kid to be able to wear that bra [laughing] without society sexualizing them. But that is society’s problem. That is not the bra’s problem. And I don’t think that it’s Barbie’s problem.
Courtney: I feel like we’re, like, really, really… I don’t want people to think that I’m very passionate about Barbie, because I really am not. [laughing] I really don’t care that much about Barbie. But the fact that padded bras, they say here, are also “enforcing thin ideals” is also kind of weird. Because even when I was really thin, I didn’t consider myself really thin, because my chest was huge. And like, yeah, it was hypersexual, but I could have a smaller waist than a flat-chested person and still feel fatter than them, because I’d still have to have a larger shirt, I’d have to have a larger dress. If anything, it’s curvy ideals, it’s an hourglass, a preference towards an hourglass figure.
Courtney: Because I’ll tell you — I mean, we met on a dating site, OkCupid. We’ve shared this story before. But when you fill out OkCupid, at least at the time we were on it, there was a section for “What is your body type?” And there was “Thin” and “Curvy.” And I can’t tell you how hard I sweated over answering that question. Because I thought for sure, no matter what I answered, someone was going to be mad at me for misleading them, [laughing] because I was both.
Courtney: So this researcher, after collecting these studies, making this hypothesis, had seen that, based on what these studies are saying, from these findings, that Barbie has a negative impact on younger girls, but older girls don’t have that negative impact. This researcher wanted to see if Barbie had an effect long-term. So there was a body image survey for various women trying to analyze the effects of Barbie’s unrealistic body. And this researcher concluded, after this survey, that there are, quote, “no long-term effects created by the doll.”
Courtney: And the researcher sort of concludes that it is a common fact for most of the women in the survey that their body satisfaction did dip during their teenage years, which, I would argue, is common for most people. They say that “While the Barbie does not have negative effects during adulthood, new research should explore the possibility that Barbie can affect women into her teenage years.” I think there’s just too, too much in society that’s constantly reaffirming this — that it’s too reductive to take any one thing and try to extrapolate this much about it.
Royce: Yeah, I think the human experience is too varied to isolate one specific thing and pull that out or analyze it. There’s just too much information. There’s too many things that we’re exposed to, including, like, all of the people around us on a daily basis.
Courtney: Yeah. Without, like, wildly unethical studies that should never be done, where you’re, like, sequestering children away and intentionally exposing them to only certain things — which, like, I don’t even want to put that out there. Like, let’s just —
Royce: Let’s not give the scientists any ideas.
Courtney: We can’t give the scientists ideas! [laughs]
Royce: But, yeah, that’s an issue that I have with a lot of studies like this. Because, okay, you looked at or you gave a child a questionnaire who has played with Barbies a lot. What was their childhood home like? What were their parents like? What were their friends like? The same things that you’re suggesting are coming from Mattel could have come from so many other places.
Courtney: Yeah! Yeah.
Royce: And the truth of it: it’s probably a little bit of everything. It’s probably a little bit of the entire ecosystem that they grew up in.
Courtney: Yes! And the fact that so many other things — like, there are so many biases that affirm one another, because the whole system is, you know, very fatphobic, as we said. There is a lot of hypersexualization in media that I do think is reaching younger and younger people. But I don’t think it’s because Barbie looks the way she does. [laughing] I think it’s because so much media is hypersexual. It’s all over the place.
Courtney: And even if children aren’t really feeling it inherent for themselves, there could be some type of sexual script that they are sort of following because everything in society is telling them that they should. And that is wrong, and that is an issue. I just think it’s being wildly misattributed here.
Courtney: And, yeah, I don’t know. It’s also… it’s just a whole thing. Because at the end of the day, I think Barbie can and should be an Ace icon. I’m happy to take her. [laughing] Why not? Let’s do it! Seal of approval. [clapping for emphasis] Where’s my gavel? I still don’t have a gavel. If I had one, I’d be hitting it right now in favor of Ace Barbie. [laughs]
Courtney: But again, to say that a doll that looks like Barbie negatively impacts kids, I still don’t know how to make sense of that. Because imagine a world where everybody unanimously says, you know, “Barbie’s wrong. Kids shouldn’t aspire to this. No more Barbie. All dolls are going to be, quote, ‘average proportions.’” I think of what it would have been like to grow up in that world with the body that I did, and it might have even been weirder and harder. I don’t know. [laughs] I don’t know. Because, like, your statistic of one in 100,000: that is rare, but that still is some. So, I don’t know. Just more diversity, I think, fixes this. More diversity in everything — in Hollywood, in toys, in children’s media.
Courtney: Because I think, more so the issue than the fact that Barbie looks this way is the fact that Barbie has such a monopoly on, like, [laughing] the young girls demographic of toys. Like, everybody knows that name. Nearly all young girls have played with a Barbie. Many young boys have played with a Barbie. But then I think there are also other dolls that are not Barbie that are equally as skinny and curvy, if not more, than Barbie.
Courtney: So, I don’t know. I wasn’t going to watch the Barbie movie, but maybe, maybe now we will. [laughs] I’m okay with Asexual Barbie. I really am. Whether she herself is Asexual, I am going to vehemently defend that people should not be projecting sex onto her.
Courtney: So thank you, listeners, so much for being here. Stay tuned, because we are still gonna get that boobs episode recorded, because I have more to say on the matter, with more personal anecdotes, more studies, more news reports, the whole shabang. So until then, goodbye!