What Hath Fifty Years of Barbie Wrought?

Father had launched into a holy rant. Mid-way through his homily, he startled us so we bolted upright in the pews. “You parents,” he said, as if by rattling our brains he could jump-start our consciences, “do not know evil when you are looking at it.” Although this homily took place years ago, I remember it still. Father was right. As parents in a sometimes wildly wicked world, we are often blinded by the evils that can pelt us and our children harder than a hailstorm. Parents need to sometimes wonder about the immorality hidden in things our “non-judgmental” society routinely accepts as normal. And one must wonder if Barbie, the beloved American doll who is turning fifty this year, is harming girls.

Wait dear reader! Stop! Before you say “It’s only a Barbie!” and toss this article aside like American toddlers toss aside headless, naked Barbies, stay with me please.

In the late 1950’s Barbie became the first “adult” doll for children. She was copied from a German prostitute doll name Bild Lilli, who was a character in an “adult” cartoon. The prostitute Lilli doll was sold, not to girls, but to men in bars and tobacco shops. Unaware of her prostitute background, Barbie’s American creators used the prostitute Lilli doll as a prototype for the first Barbie doll.

Barbie’s wardrobe was and still remains indecent. The 2008 Holiday Barbie wears a silver gown with a more than plunging V-slit that goes straight from neck to navel, as she poses with gobs of thick black mascara and hand on hip. Barbie recently debuted as a “Happy Birthday Gorgeous” doll-with her shiny teal blue dress slit up the side of her entire leg. Modesty is decency (CCC 2522). How are girls to learn modesty, if they are, almost from infancy, bombarded with an assortment of over-sexed immodestly dressed indecent dolls? Although America may be blinded by the indecency of Barbie, other countries are not. The Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Saudi Arabia stated that: “[B]arbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful postures… are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West.”

barbie.jpgBarbie is unhealthy for girls, not just because she is immodest, but because she is so impossibly thin, with a figure that does not conform to normal human proportions. The International Journal of eating disorders has reported that if Barbie’s dimensions were projected to human size, they would be 38-18-34. Barbie dolls can cause girls to dislike their own body shape, and lead them toward eating disorders. The Journal of Developmental Psychology reported on a study conducted to assess the impact of images of dolls on young girls. This study showed that, across the board, girls were more dissatisfied with their shape and desired more extreme thinness after seeing Barbie doll images than after seeing other pictures.

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health reports that 80% of 13-year-olds have attempted to lose weight. Dissatisfaction with one’s body can lead to not only emotional, but physical decline in girls. Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents, and twenty percent of those with anorexia will die prematurely from this illness or complications related to it.

Barbie is not only indecent and overly-thin. She is a narcissist. She herself could write a book on self-absorbed excess and acquisition. With disturbing ease, Barbie spreads this debilitating mentality of acquiring and excess to young girls. One look at the magnitude of Barbie’s paraphernalia will show you why. Barbie owns just about everything. This includes over forty pets from a lion to a horse to a zebra; multiple vehicles from a Corvette convertible to a “surfs up cruiser,” Volkswagon, Mustang, Ford, Jeep, “Hot tub party bus,” and a “Jam and Glam” bus; and a mountain ski cabin, a 3-story “dream house,” and “Barbie Talking Townhouse.” And this barely touches the surface of Barbie’s possessions and what has helped make her worth $3 billion a year to Mattel.

Like other modern day media, Barbie indoctrinates girls into glamour and glitz. Mattel has, in their magnanimous generosity, provided girls with glamour through a Barbie Top Model Doll, a Talk of the Town Barbie, and — perhaps to satisfy a generation of children raised on one too many American Idol shows — a Barbie Opening Night. There is a Barbie Party Cruise, complete with disco ball, and swimming slide. With the likes of Barbie and her glamour and excess infiltrating homes, how are girls to learn the virtues of temperance and moderation, and how will their hearts be lead closer to God who longs one day to share eternity with them in heaven?

Over 100 years ago, a young nun died in Nevers, France. Owning nothing, she became more beautiful in death than life. She had lived a life of suffering, piety and pain. But despite this pain, she lived with such great humility, purity, virtue and goodness, and in a way so pleasing to God, that according to a sister in her order, upon death “her face became young and peaceful again, with a look of purity and blessedness.” Her body lies incorrupt in Nevers, France. This humble nun was the chosen child to whom Our Lady appeared in Lourdes to proclaim her Immaculate Conception. Her name is St. Bernadette Soubirous, and she had a great love for children. For role models, instead of pointing our girls to Barbie, why don’t we point them to saints like Bernadette?

Mattel has earned billions on Barbie, but at what cost to girls and their virtue? What will the next fifty years be like? We can continue to build Mattel’s fortune, to offer girls more scantily-clad, toy-acquiring, self-absorbed, empty-headed plastic dolls as role models, and lead girls to fall into that same vain glamorous, over-sexed, anorexic pit. Or we can give them baby dolls, and modest dolls to care for, and saints to emulate as we guide them in virtue.

What else can parents do? When at spiritual war, one can take up spiritual arms.

1. Mother Theresa advised praying three Hail Mary’s a day for our own purity, and as parents we can do that for each of our children. We can pray that they be kept pure in heart, soul, mind, body, speech, dress, will and thought.

2. Pray the Rosary as a family. Our Lady is our model of purity and she will protect us.

3. Pray for a spirit of purity to spread across our nation and around the world.

4. Stop buying over-sexed dolls with impossibly thin figures and educate relatives and friends. Explain to girls how certain dolls “are not good for you.”

5. Insist on modest clothing for the dolls that girls have in the home, and use this as a lesson to teach about the virtue of modesty.

6. Talk to girls about inner beauty. True beauty comes from leading a life pleasing to God and radiates from the inside out. Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised (Psalm 31:31). True inner beauty is carried with us into eternity.

May we lead our girls toward inner beauty and toward an eternity with God in heaven.

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  • Cheryl Dickow

    My sisters and I had the very best of times playing with Barbie as we grew up. I played with her till I was 15. We didn’t have all the “things” that came along with her – in fact we rarely ever even had her shoes because they were always getting sucked up into the vacuum. To this day my sisters and I laugh about how we played store and the top of cardboard boxes were our Barbie cars. Never once did we look at Barbie as a role model other than she was pretty and there wasn’t anything wrong with being pretty. None of us aspired to her thin figure other than there is nothing wrong with taking care of one’s figure. None of us girls became anorexic, vain, over-sexed or emulated Barbie. We simply had loads of fun using our imaginations and playing Barbie. I will say that our memoires are priceless.

    Having said that, I understand that life is different today and parents want all the tools they can find to raise healthy Catholic girls who understand that their true beauty is in being a daughter of the King. Today I am blessed to be the editor of the series of books “All Things Girl” where inner beauty is the main message but the reality of having a body is real and the fact that young girls care about their bodies should be acknowledged. There is a delicate balance and the authors of the title “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…What is Beauty, After All?” have found that excellent balance for our Catholic tweens. The other titles include:

    Girls Rock! – all about feminine genius
    Friends, Boys, and Getting Along – featured saint is Bernadette Soubirous; recognizing inherent dignity in all and looking at the “mean girl” syndrome
    Modern and Modest – fashion in a Catholic way – what should remain veiled and why; excellent examination of conscience questions about clothes and modesty
    Mind Your Manners – due out in about 2 weeks
    Journal for Prayers, Thoughts, and Other Important Things – a simple writing journal that ties it all together

    So, for parents who find that their young girls are succumbing to messages that physical beauty is the end-all and be-all, I highly recommend this entire series. It weaves the teachings of JPII’s Theology of the Body throughout -because the girls ought to be able to find that balance of inner beauty and care for outer selves. These books are being picked up by diocese across the country because of this balance. And, just for the record, these books are available in the TCW Store where each purchase also helps the Catholic Exchange apostolate. It’s a real win-win answer.

  • Claire

    Amen! If I had a daughter, I would not allow barbies for all the reasons indicated in this article.

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  • whisper

    One thing to say about barbie/mattel entertainment. They try to change barbie image by producing some infant movies. In these movies the barbie characters try to induce some auto esteem to the infant viewers by using exactly a viewer identification technique.
    This either could be positive or dangerous depending on the message implanted in the infants soul.
    Their technique is as follows:
    Fist they want the infant who looks at the movie to identify with the barbie image by placing the barbie or even an infant barbie in a regular kid situation in a realistic world setting.
    This is the identification stage of the movie.
    Once the identification is established, they blend the realistic situation to a magical non realistic situation where the barbie/mattel moral is induced by means of beautiful perfect scenes, princesses, princes, dragons etc.

    This is a kind of suggestion or hypnosis technique

  • Mary S.

    This was a very interesting article for me because I never had a “Barbie” doll in our home. Our two daughters were given “Skipper” dolls instead. There was something about “Barbie” that has always annoyed me. I have been in many homes with naked ‘Barbie’ dolls lying around. That bothers me, too. lt may seem like a small thing, but if we are really trying to promote respect for the human person, “Barbie” is not a very good way to do it. I recall reading Dr. Wilke’s book about teaching sex education to children & how there are building blocks that can make a difference. It has been so long ago that I read it, but it stuck with me that ‘Barbie’ dolls are not a good ‘building block’ to use. For girls who enjoy ‘dressing’ up fashion dolls, the “Skipper” dolls were a good alternative. ( Skipper was ‘Barbie’s little sister). You can’t buy them anymore, but I found some for my granddaughters on ebay. I don’t know how harmful ‘Barbie’ may have been, but I believe we can do so much better with something else.

  • leclta

    I love that feminists have been saying this for many, many years. The consequences of young girls being bombarded with unrealistic images of women is clear today: incredible incidences of eating disorders, amazing pressure on very young girls to be “sexy”, etc.

    I played with Barbie, too. I loved it. There is something about that toy that encourages imaginative play, and that’s good. I think I was also heavily influenced by the imagery. No young girls consciously choose Barbie as a role model — the influence is just this subtle suggestion that she is “womanly”, and it’s reinforced over and over again in our culture. My favorite example is “Deal or No Deal”, with the mannequin – like models silently holding the briefcases. Classy.

  • Dwan923

    I have the fond Barbie memories, also. We probably spent more time “setting up” the play space with boxes and stools, than we did actually playing. My brother brought along GI Joe and our neighbor had Johnny West and horses to add.

    I never thought about Barbie being abnormal, it never entered my mind to want to be “built” like her when I grew up. As for naked dolls, I have never been to anyone’s house, who has daughters, and not seen a naked doll-even baby dolls. Since they are not truly anatomically correct, it never bothered me, I never really notice it.

    As for alternate dolls, Pleasant Rowland started American Girl so that her granddaughters would have a nicer doll to play with, and yet she sold out to Mattel several years back! Hopefully, they won’t corrupt the American Girl dolls too much.

    I guess I feel that children are innocent and most do not see things the way grown-ups do. My daughters, age 21 and 14, agree that they never thought about Barbie that way until they heard it recently. They loved Barbie and her movies and quit playing with them on their own. They also had Madame Alexander baby dolls and American Girl dolls, and many others. They played with dolls long after other girls have given them up. They had great fun playing and had very creative imaginations.

    Perhaps because I didn’t stress Barbie as a role-model but as a toy, and I guided the way they dressed, and dress today, and expressed my believes on modesty and womanhood, my values show in them more than Barbie’s.

  • Warren Jewell

    Barbie – indicative of our narcissistic declines.

    Interestingly, my daughter, Helena, never got into Barbie as she did into family doll sets. Wonder of wonders! Now even her fourteen-year-old daughter, Rachel, prefers Baby Sister than ever she did dolls.

    Little Natalia turns into her sister’s breast as if to nurse, and Rachel laughs as if tickled. Their Mom assures her that she will one day know the top of Momminess that is feeding one’s Baby with Mommy’s own nutrition.

  • Warren Jewell

    (MEN! Even with our sons, we are deprived of such glories!)

  • sccdc

    My sisters and I all had Barbies. I remember being embarrassed if one of my brothers saw her naked. I remember them looking away if we changed her clothes in front of one of them. I remember my friend who had all of the cool Barbie stuff. She’s gone through at least three marriages, not that Barbie is the reason. She was never embarrassed by Barbie the way I was,even with brothers around. It’s not a feminist issue, it’s a pornography issue. We’ve experienced a long decline into the sexualization of children. When my 8 year old asked why it would be wrong for him to kiss a girl, even though I don’t allow much access to mainstream media, I knew the descent was continuing. He attends an excellent Catholic School, but not all parents are on the same page. Bratz, Barbie, even Olive Oil present lousy images of women to children. The male images can be even worse. Think Bart Simpson. God help us all to remain in the counter-culture that is the Catholic church.

  • jmtfh

    This from the Telegraph.co.uk on today’s site–

    “Jerry Oppenheimer, the author of Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel [a book to be released soon] claims that Jack Ryan, the late designer who popularised the doll, was a “full-blown Seventies-style swinger” with “a manic need for sexual gratification”.

    Ryan, whose wives included Zsa Zsa Gabor, allegedly held orgies at his house in California at which he surrounded himself with voluptuous Barbie doppelgängers, including Gwen Florea, who provided the voice for a line of talking dolls.




    “Modern Barbie Gets Kinky”…

    I won’t post any pix. Go to the site for yourself!


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  • When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up my 7 year old neice replied, “HOT”!

    I trust that her response reflects the moral erosion that exists in our present culture. This erosion has to some degree resulted through the acceptance of seemingly harmless toys like the Barbie doll which promote a sense of sexuality.

    If a child has been provided a framework of morality learned from his/her parents, through them leading by example, then it provides the child a sheild to deflect subtle attacks of deviance to their fragile psyches. To the child who comes from a loving and moral environment then the doll is just a doll, however, to the child that exists in a fragmented and unstable environment, ripe for fermenting insecurities, the essence of the doll can become distorted and perverted. For the child whose psyche is fractured a doll such as the Barbie doll could become an idol which they strive to become.

    To the seven year old girl Barbie is beautiful, happy, and because she’s plastic she is impervious to pain. Today our society is littered with women who have felt compelled to use cosmetic surgery to coat their insecurities for the purpose of allowing themselves to feel beautiful and happy. The danger is that this coating will harden over time to the point where the individual will become impervious to emotional pain because they can’t feel anymore.

    This transfiguring phenomenon has come as a result of attacks on the domestic Church, the family home. With divorce comes a torrent of emotional suffering that causes damage to children’s psyches. When a young girl witnesses her Mother suffering emotionally because her Father has left the family home a fear becomes embedded in her psyche of not wanting to suffer the same as her Mother. As the mother deals with her emotional pain she becomes less able to provide emotional support to the child so an emotional void occurs. Normally the mother is the emotional nuturer to the child, however, if the mother is suffering from an emotional crisis then her nuturing becomes self serving out of neccessity and the child’s emotional needs must be served elsewhere. How often has a distraught young girl retreated to her bedroom to find emotional comfort from the pretty doll with the reassuring smile?

  • I recall in the early 60’s my grown up sister, estranged from mom, gave me a “Barbie Doll” for Christmas. She had nothing on but a bathing suit. Mom said I could not keep it, and threw it away. I thank mom for doing that. However, later in my teens, when mom was given psych drugs by a doctor, mom said my short skirts were okay, because I had “nice legs.” Obviously, mom gave me a medicated response to immodesty in dress, and I can forgive her for that. It was the “mixed” message, that was wrong. I now take metformin a diabetic drug, and it affects my cognition, and judgment. Now, I know what mom went through. It’ not an excuse, but an explanation. My Aunt Pauline, told mom our skirts were too short, but mom defended our immodest attire. How I wish mom cared, enough to have disapplined us. She retreated, and never came back to her mind. That was difficult, having to raise oneself in a household with a Dad who was absent, doing “Dallas,” so to speak, and a mom on psych drugs, and living on the pitiful hand out Dad gave her and us. How me and my 2 other siblings who were living at home, have tried to “grow” up, on our own, making more mistakes, than most people, and learning how to live, dispite our parents mistakes. It is taking a lifetime to undo.

    Mom’s no, in the early 60’s, showed me the courage of her convictions, were more important, than the Anti-Christ Christmas Gift I got from my sister. My older sister, now advocates Dad’s Concubine, and my sibling’s concubines. However, because I am trying to live my Catholicism, she hates me. She has issues with women, as a result of disrepecting mom’s admonitions. God Rest Mom’s Soul. Thanks, Mom, for at least trying to be a “good mom,” when I was little. My teen years, were hell, without your help, but eventually, I turned to God, and I am doing better. You didn’t know you could say “no,” to a doctor. The power of suggestion, is powerful, I know. I forgive you Mom, for your “medical leave” of your senses, when I was 12 onward. We missed you, and we missed having a holy dad and mom in our life. However, you did try before you quit, and I will look to your good examples, and not follow your bad examples, with God’s help.

    I needed to say this, publicly. Because, Immodesty in Dress, and parents, being “Dismissive About It,” is disturbing. It sends the message, that Parents love their children, more than they love God. God, has to be #1 in a Parent’s Life. Teaching that to your kids, they will thank you someday, even if they rebell a little bit, and then come back to the faith, you showed them. They will thank God and thank you for being a Godly Parent, when it wasn’t easy to be a Godly Parent. All I can say, is, PERSERVERE in DOING GOOD! It will pay off later, in the dividends, of your Children’s Eternal Salvation. You can then have a big Coming Home Party in Heaven, for All Eternity, because YOU DID THE RIGHT THINGS HERE ON EARTH. May the Peace of Christ be Always with you. Adieu.

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  • mlr86

    Eating disorders rarely have anything to do with dolls. I’m anorexic, and I’m pretty sure that it’s not because of Barbie. Let the children relax and play when they’re young… because, in my experience, stress can lead to a lot of negative things.

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  • ArtfullDodger

    modesty was a patriarchal plot to keep women down don’t ya know, now miley is liberated… (stop blaming the parents for the ideas of feminist leaders and their political backing).