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Barbie is a cultural artefact that many people have once owned and adored in their lifetime, if not still do. The doll, which arose in 1959, was created by the American company Mattel. They proved hugely successful and continue to do so, sold today by the second. Despite the immense victory of the doll, it comes with its complications and has been heavily criticized by many. The aim of this writing is to explore these contradicting arguments and discover: should our children really own and play with Barbie?

In 2015, Barbie was applauded when it collaborated with fashion brand, Moschino. The brand brought a new dimension to Barbie, creating a more diverse and inclusive outlook. The doll line created was launched with an advertisement which featured a young male, this was a first for the Barbie brand (Afaqs, 2015). Moschino is a well-known Italian fashion brand ran by creative director, Jeremy Scott. They have collaborated with other well-known brands aside from Barbie, such as the high street store H&M. Due to the brands presence within the fashion market, the Barbie collaboration gained high interest. The advertisement showed the boy playing with the Barbie doll alongside two young girls, he then made eye contact with the camera and stated, “Moschino Barbie is so fierce!” (Afaqs, 2015). He can be seen playing with the doll, engaging in role-play with the other two children and performing actions such as aiding the doll to answer her phone. This was ground breaking and revolutionary for Barbie, the doll has previously been considered a female toy due to advertisements, collaborations, the doll’s careers, clothes and other elements being aimed towards young girls. By collaborating with this well-known brand, Barbie has gained a wide viewing hence why including the boy in the advertisement was so impactful. People who have previously criticized the brand are likely to have seen the advertisement therefore changing their view that the brand is aimed towards a female audience. Along with this, parents, who believe this view that Barbie is for females, could change their opinion as a result of seeing a young boy in the advertisement, therefore allowing their sons to purchase and play with a Barbie doll. Alternatively, young boys may see the advertisement and feel more comfortable about purchasing/playing with a Barbie doll, they may even desire to have one, whereas previously they felt they shouldn’t/weren’t allowed to because they aren’t female. Despite this, the advertisement featured the young boy with a mohawk. Some may argue this hairstyle is unusual for a boy of his age, therefore presenting questions such as, is the advertisement really promoting being a genderless brand/toy or is it creating the idea that boys who desire to play with Barbie are ‘different’?

This issue with the brand is ongoing, many still perceive the doll as a female toy due to its heavy femininity. Rogers (1999) proposes that “nothing about Barbie ever looks masculine, even when she is on the police force; Police Officer Barbie comes with a night stick and a walkie-talkie but no gun and no handcuffs”. Barbie throughout the generations has been heavily considered a girl’s toy, it is unclear where this distinction came from, however there are many contributing factors which suggest Barbie should only be used by females. The doll is traditionally pink, which is generally accepted as a female’s color, whereas blue is for males. This paired with the heavy use of florals, glitter, ballgowns, tiaras, soft fabrics, small animals, etc., creates the connotation that Barbie is for females, as everything often associated with the doll, as listed above, is typically associated with this gender.

Along with this, it could be argued Barbie causes gendered socialization, the idea that certain behaviors are considered appropriate for a specific sex. Barbie is often sold in playsets that advertise her as a mother, wife, model, etc.; these roles are often characterized by selflessness, willingness to please and beauty. She is often seen with a handbag, high heels, a child or small animal, flowers, clothes or homeware items. Many, often parents who purchase the doll for their child, argue this encourages girls to see themselves in roles such as housewives or mothers, teaching them that their career aspects are much different to those of males. The idea is created that females are pretty, petite and guided by a male, whereas males are rough, controlling and essential for a woman to succeed; it is evident why this could be damaging to a young female. Sherman and Zurbriggen (2014) conducted a study which showed the impact of females playing with Barbie. Their results showed: “Girl’s ideas about careers for themselves compared to careers for boys interacted with condition, such that girls who played with Barbie indicated they had fewer career options than boys”. This highlights the severity of the issue and the potential large impact Barbie has on the younger generation. Despite this, it could also be argued that Barbie is a perfect feminist. She has had careers ranging from an astronaut to a dog walker along with jobs within parliament, she represents a wide range of careers despite their female or male connotations. Does this create the idea for young girls that they too can be independent and earn their own living? These roles have progressed over the years along with societies views, for example, in 1961 Barbie was a nurse, and Ken, her male equivalent, was a doctor. By 1973 Barbie was herself a physician, showing young impressionable girls that everything is possible, regardless of gender (Thomas, 2007).

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The brand may ague/try to portray the idea that there are plenty of males who play with a Barbie doll (for example, by including a young boy within their advertisement), however, as stated prior, there is the argument that boys who play with Barbie are ‘different’. If Barbie is heavily feminine in everything she does, does that mean that boys who play with her have feminine tendencies? The media is full of parents questioning if their sons playing with Barbie is a negative thing, is he gay? Is he transgender? He is dressing up a Barbie as a princess, is he a girl? It is subconsciously inbuilt that Barbie is for females, meaning many consider a boy playing with a Barbie doll an issue/problem. In contrast to previous norms, gender inclusivity is on the rise as of 2019, it isn’t only impractical, but it is ludicrous to consider Barbie a female toy in today’s society.

Mattel, an American company, led the toy industry for some time with their brands including those such as Hot Wheels, Barbie and Fisher-Price. Despite the huge success of Barbie (estimated that over a million Barbie dolls have been sold in more than 150 countries), there has been huge controversy, even lawsuits, over her body weight/proportion. The doll itself is small and petite, with a height of around 27 cm, bust of 12 cm, waist of 8 cm, and a hip measurement of 13cm. These numerical values may seem harmless in paper, however upon closer inspection of the measurements and doll itself it becomes clear that her shape is unrealistic and extremely dangerous. It is said that if Barbie was a real woman, her measurements would translate to a chest of 36 inches, waist 18 inches and hips of 33 inch. This lack of weight translates into an extremely low BMI, in fact it is suggested Barbie wouldn’t menstruate (Rössner, 2014). This raises the question of whether it is ethical for children to play with Barbie. It could be suggested that playing with a Barbie doll at a young impressionable age creates the view that her body type is ideal and ‘normal’. Children see the doll as a mannequin paired with her revealing clothes, often crop tops, dresses and those which accentuate this petite figure. This also causes a problem as children become aware that when they wear these clothes alike to Barbie’s, they look different. Barbie’s weight/proportion is unavoidable and a key feature of her appearance. This creates an unrealistic ideal causing children to have distorted perceptions of themselves and their body image/weight; they desire to be like Barbie as they think this is normal and expected, whereas in reality, it is totally unrealistic and extremely dangerous. This is known as the Barbie syndrome: a person attempts to emulate the doll’s physical appearance, even though it has unattainable body proportions (Rössner, 2014). Today, the percentage of teenagers developing eating disorders is rapidly rising every year, statistics show children being treated for eating disorders in Wales has seen an increase of 36% over the last ten years (Community Practitioner, 2015). This raises the question of whether companies, such as Mattel, creates these deep-rooted psychological issues with their products such as Barbie, and whether they stem from childhood.

More recently, Barbie has launched ‘The Dream Gap Project’. PR Newswire (2018) states that research has shown that girls, beginning at five years old, are less likely than boys to perceive their gender as ‘smart’ and lose confidence in their abilities. As part of the project, Barbie has decided to dedicate the brand to funding research along with showcasing role models for girls, this is being done by producing 10 dolls a year that resemble “empowering female role models” (Barbie, 2019). The dream gap is a reference to how girls are more likely to lower their aspirations compared to boys, Barbie has vowed to help research into this and aim to make a huge impact. Alongside this, they will release Barbie dolls with new careers, perhaps those that are male dominated. As discussed earlier, it is evident that Barbie can criticized for being discriminatory and negatively impacting young impressionable children. This project could signal a change for the brand, it is possible they are becoming more contemporary and considering gender inclusivity, body perception, feminism and other subjects which are prevalent today.

In summary, it is evident that there are significant and potentially extremely dangerous issues with the Barbie doll. Some of which may result in dire consequences often surrounding mental health. It is clear that Barbie has faults, her proportion and size is extremely unrealistic, and whilst many may feel this is a hypercritical observation and she is a harmless children’s toy, it is obvious that this will have an effect, potentially subconsciously, on young children. All children have a role model, somebody they desire to be, as stated prior statistics show millions of young children own a Barbie doll, therefore it is likely many consider her as their epitome. As these children age, it is highly likely they will begin to notice the differences between Barbie and themselves, such as weight and body proportion, creating a distorted perception of themselves. Alongside this, the lack of male-dominated careers, e.g., engineer, businessman, etc., for Barbie and her obedience to authority, who are always males, will no doubt have a negative impact on their lives. It teaches children from a young age that genders are drastically different, hence why insults such as ‘you’re acting like a girl’ are used massively by young children. It acts as a form of reinforcement, girls are taught by their Barbie dolls that being a housewife, mother, babysitter, etc., is achievable and enjoyable, whereas it is impossible for her to be a pilot as she isn’t a male and she would struggle. This struggling acts as punishment and reinforces in a young child not to repeat the behavior, therefore teaching them these careers are unachievable as they are female and they are destined to only succeed in ‘careers for females’.

To conclude, there are significant factors which suggest young children should not play with a Barbie doll, as it has harmful effects. Mattel may be making a conscious effort to change this, for example, #CloseTheDreamGap, however these efforts need to be significantly improved to ensure the success of the Barbie doll survives in today’s society.


  1. (2015) ‘Eating Disorders in Welsh Teens at Record High’. Community Practitioner. 88(6). P. 5.
  2. (2018) ‘Barbie Pushes Global Initiative to Champion Girls’. Limitless Potential with ‘Dream Gap Project’. PR Newswire. 8.
  3. (2015) Viral Now: Moschino Barbie Ad Breaks Gender Stereotype. Afaqs. [Online] [Accessed on 25th March 2019]
  4. Mattel. (2015) Moschino Barbie!. Mattel/Moschino. [Online] [Accessed on 25th March 2019]
  5. Mattel. (No date) Barbie. 2019. [Online] [Accessed on 27th March 2019]
  6. Rogers, M. (1999) Barbie Culture. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
  7. Rössner, S. (2014) ‘Barbie’. Obesity Reviews: Stephen’s Corner. 15(3). pp. 224-225.
  8. Sherman, M. A. and Zurbriggen, L. E (2014) ‘Boys Can Be Anything: Effect of Barbie Play on Girls’ Career Cognitions’. Sex Roles, 70(5-6) pp. 195-208.
  9. Teague, K. (2007) ‘Mattel, Inc’. Encyclopedia of Major Marketing Campaigns. 2. pp. 953-956.
  10. Thomas, J. L. (2007) ‘Barbie’. Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender. 1. pp. 115-117.

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