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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