Despite appearance-based criticisms, Barbie is a timeless role model

(Illustration by Alex Bosserman)

Growing up, children are taught that judging a book by its cover will lead to missing out on an amazing story. However, when it comes to Barbie, that’s something that is often overlooked in favor of deeming her a terrible role model. 

Barbie was introduced to the world by Ruth Handler, co-founder of the Mattel toy company, in 1959 “for girls to play out their dreams.” According to the company’s website, “Barbie is committed to shining a light on empowering role models past and present in an effort to inspire more girls.” 

The main argument against Barbie is that she can damage young girls’ self-esteem due to her unrealistic body proportions and features. However, this is not how many children see Barbie, instead it is the view of many adults. 

Society may be moving forward by emphasizing body positivity and focusing on what’s on the inside, but fails to apply this philosophy by judging Barbie solely on her looks, rather than her accomplishments, character and over 200 careers.

Arguing that Barbie’s body is unrealistic is an issue in itself as Barbie is a plastic doll. Children’s toys are rarely an accurate representation of real life, such as the oversized heads of Bratz dolls or neon-colored stuffed animals, and Barbie never claims to have realistic proportions. Focusing on Barbie’s outward appearance also teaches children that women’s bodies outweigh their achievements and character. Embracing Barbie for all she has done, rather than revert to outdated stereotypes, would be a step in the right direction. 

In 2001, Mattel brought Barbie to life with their straight-to-DVD films, where Barbie starred in reworks of classic fairytales. The films were produced in an effort to rebrand and appeal to modern, feminist ideas. The films emphasize the importance of friendship, told through complex characters and stories. 

“Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper,” just one of many Barbie films that emphasizes the importance of self-confidence and friendship, is told through Anneliese, a science-loving princess, and Erika, a poor but determined seamstress. Though adversity is frequent, the heroines ultimately achieve their goals and inspire the audience by showing children that they can do anything that they set their minds to. 

An argument against the Barbie films is usually accompanied by comparison to Disney’s princess films. However, it is notable that the Barbie films showcase strong female relationships and friendships, while older Disney princess films often pit the heroine against other women for the attention of a prince, as seen in Disney’s “Cinderella.” The characters who are played by Barbie show kindness, bravery, strength and selflessness, among many other valued qualities.

Barbie has undoubtedly earned the title of being a timeless role model. She has shown children that they can do it all and be anything from an astronaut or a veterinarian while remaining feminine. In a world where strength and femininity are still sometimes viewed as opposing features, Barbie shows children that they can have both. 

“Since Barbie’s creation, she has always empowered girls to be whoever they want to be,” said Lisa McKnight, senior VP-marketing for Mattel North America. “Barbie was an astronaut before Neil Armstrong made it to the moon.” 

Before deeming her an unfit role model, it is time to look beyond Barbie’s plastic exterior and value her for her strong character and impact instead of her appearance.

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