For Real Friday: Barbie

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Yesterday (or possibly before, I’ve been hiding under a rock called DEADLINE), Mattel announce new line of Barbies with a wider array of skin tones and body shapes, and the results were mixed. Most reactions I saw among the mommy sphere were positive. But the rest were mixed between

“OMG! Why don’t we give our children more credit. THEY KNOW THEY’RE TOYS. If your kid is looking at a doll and saying ‘I should look like this’ you have a problem.”

And

“Why is there an obese Barbie? Mattel shouldn’t be encouraging obesity!”

Which basically proves negative reaction one is a load of crap. Because if THAT many adults look at a doll with healthy proportions and sees not just fat, but obesity, there is in fact a problem with their perception. So no, actually, we can’t count on our kids not to have an unrealistic outlook on body perception if grown ups are that confused.

The curvy Barbie isn’t obese. Do you really think that after decades of criticism for creating a doll with anatomically impossible proportions, they didn’t bother to research what healthy ratios on different body types? Seriously?

Mattel isn’t the only company with this problem. Over the past few years several dolls with realistic proportions (note, realistic in this context means possible, not a reflection on America’s growing obesity problem) and healthy proportions, like the Lammily Doll and the Tree Change Doll, were also instantly labeled fat.

I’m not saying the issues with perception should be laid at Barbie’s feet. Girls are inundated with images of super skinny, often to the point of being unhealthy, people their entire lives, and research shows it has an impact. That’s why France is making sure their models are at least not unhealthy. (They are also getting cries of criticism for promoting obesity).

Since when does not skinny to the point of being unhealthy = obese?

For women? Since always.

As a kindergartener, I remember being distinctly proud that I weighed less than anyone else in my class. When my pediatrician says my daughter is underweight, my FIRST reaction is to think, “Oh, good.” AND THEN I come to my senses and start asking about how that might impact her health.

Talk to any group of women, and you’ll find reactions like mine.

mjaxmy0xowuxmwq4ndizngm0nwvm_51802aa4ba6caAs for promoting obesity by showing realistic body types, some research indicates that the prevalence of unachievable/unhealthy slimness in the imagery we’re constantly exposed to is actually a contributing factor to obesity. That’s why memes like this have so much resonance.

A girl may be a completely healthy weight for her body type and height and still think she’s fat. So when she gains a few pounds and crosses the line from healthy to overweight, to her it’s not a matter of losing five or six pounds to get back to a healthy goal. In her head it’s already twenty-plus. They get caught in this cycle of hopelessness that may have just as much to do with obesity as the prevalence of fast food places.

Perception matters. And if this week has proven anything, it’s that ours if vastly skewed.

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