16 March, 2018
Symbolism Behind a Barbie Doll
Have you ever thought something as simple as a childhood toy could change other’s perspectives of women all around the world? As crazy as it sounds, this idea of basing self-worth off of a doll, is something that has recently surfaced. Emily Praeger talks about the impact that Barbie has made not only on women’s viewpoint of themselves, but the way men expect women to look. Praeger begins to analyze the impossible standards of physical perfection, by illustrating the symbolism behind this doll.
More often than not, women think being one specific size is what makes you lovable, and a Barbie doll has furthered this idea. The invention of the Barbie doll, though seemed harmless, has left a stamp on women’s worth for over a two decades now. Women think that matching Barbie’s physical perfection is what will make men want or love them. As Praeger begins to illustrate this, she realizes that this toy was made by a man, and it begins to all make sense. Praeger states “If it’s true that a woman didn’t design Barbie, you don’t know how much saner that makes me feel. Of course, that doesn’t ameliorate the damage. There are millions of women who are subliminally sure that a thirty-nine-inch bust and a twenty-three-inch waist are the epitome of lovability” (Praeger 354). This quote proves that women think they need to have, body wise, to be attractive to males. This idea of a small waist, and large breasts has made women begin to have less confidence, and quickly decreasing their self love. Praeger also begins to think about how a women would never have made a Barbie this way, “What kind of woman would have designed this doll? Let’s be honest: Barbie looks like someone who got her start at the Playboy Mansion. She could be a regular guest on The Howard Stern Show. It is a fact of Barbie’s design that her breasts are so out of proportion to the rest of her body that if she were a human woman, she’d fall flat on her face” (Praeger 354). This quote shows how a woman knows that Barbie’s body type is unrealistic, yet women are still thinking they should attempt to look like her. As seen, women often look at Barbie and idolize her. This shows the symbolism that follows Barbie. The symbolism that women are trying to achieve this “perfect body size”, just because of the jaded idea, that this makes you lovable.
On the other hand, Barbie also symbolizes what men expect their future wife to look like. In the introduction before Praeger’s analysis it is stated, “Emily Praeger reveals the damaging effect of a doll that establishes such an impossible standard of physical perfection for little girls—and for little boys who grow up expecting their girlfriends to look like Barbie” (Praeger 353). This quote shows the expectation that men have for their future wife. Though this body type is almost impossible to achieve, it shows what men expect, and what women think they have to achieve to please men. Whenever Barbie was created, she was created almost more manly looking, more tough. Prager states, “Perhaps Barbie is Zsa Zsa if she were eleven inches tall. No matter what, my discovery of Jack Ryan confirms what I have always felt: There is something indescribably masculine about Barbie—dare I say it, phallic. For all her giant breasts and high-heeled feet, she lacks a certain softness” (Praeger 354). This quote shows how Dr Ryan has sculpted Barbie into something that will be expected from women. Not meaning to, Dr Ryan has now taught little boys to grow up thinking this is what their future girlfriend, or future wife is supposed to look like. Barbie now not only symbolizes what women think they’re supposed to look like, but what men subconsciously expect.
As Praeger starts to unpack the symbolism behind Barbie, she also begins to raise her own theory. She begins to see even more symbolism behind Barbie, such as the idea of feminism and also the idea of inequality. Praeger begins to question Dr. Ryan’s intentions of creating Barbie, “The question that comes to mind is, of course, Did Mr. Ryan design Barbie as a weapon? Because it is odd that Barbie appeared about the same time in my consciousness as the feminist movement—a time when women sought equality and small breasts were king. Or is Barbie the dream date of weapons designers” (Praeger 354). This quote raises the idea that this doll could have been created for another underlying symbol, that Barbie may have been created to counterattack feminism. This is something that created an uproar, because what was Dr Ryan actually trying to achieve when creating this doll? It almost seems as though she was created to symbol injustice between men and women. Praeger figures this out whenever analyzing Ken, “And then, there was Ken with that truncated, unidentifiable lump at his groin. I sensed injustice at work. Why, I wondered, was Barbie designed with such obvious sexual equipment and Ken not? Why was his treated as if it were more mysterious than hers? Did the fact that it was treated as such indicate that somehow his equipment, his essential maleness, was considered more powerful than hers, more worthy of the dignity of concealment” (Praeger 355). This quote shows the differences between Ken and Barbie. The symbolism of these dolls could go deeper than being a set expectation for women and men, but could also symbolize inequality between male and female.
By illustrating the symbolism behind a Barbie doll, Praeger begins to identify what all Barbie stands for, and the stamp she has left on our world today. She sees that barbie represents what standard, body image wise, women hold themselves to. She also sees that this doll has set an expectation for males to think that this is what women are supposed to look like. After proving all of those points she begins to see one last symbol that Barbie could hold, which is injustice between males and females. Barbie isn’t just a doll for children to play with, but also symbols of greater meaning.
Praeger, Emily. Our Barbies, Oursleves.