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The Psychological Effects of Growing Up With Barbie Dolls

Barbie has been an iconic figure in the toy industry  since her launch 61 years ago at the American International Toy Fair in New York City. America immediately fell in love with the doll and by 1962, there was a ninety-eight percent recognition rate of the Barbie Doll in the country. It is no surprise that millions of girls grew up admiring such a doll and its many accessories, but what if society were to stop and consider the collateral psychological damage of an “innocent” doll such as Barbie?

To a young girl, a Barbie doll represents everything that is beautiful, and dangerously embodies everything they want to be and look like when they grow up. However, from a more mature vantage point, Barbie is a doll that represents unrealistic body standards, white supremacy, skewed gender roles, and a distorted picture of beauty. One’s perceptions about themselves and those around them are in a constant state of change. It is healthy that perception is continually being modified, otherwise we would have a false sense of reality. However, as a child, one of the most crucial cognitive development markers is being able to establish mental maps and schemas. This is how the brain organizes symbolic representations in our mind, and then interprets that information toward the world and particularly themselves. 

Kristen Bryant-Thinking In A Lala College Sweatshirt Kristen Bryant / Her Campus Perception is not the issue, rather it is how female society was conditioned to perceive beauty as a blonde-hair, blue-eyed, Caucasian female with a slender figure and sun-kissed skin. This reductionistic view that a single ethnicity and body type is preferred and considered more beautiful than others was portrayed to young girls for decades. Given the ubiquity of Barbie and what it has demonstrated to females, it is no wonder why so many women struggle with body image issues, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and have become so concerned with achieving the “perfect body,” being in a relationship with the “perfect boy,” and earning the “perfect status.”

Although Barbie has evolved from its original 1959 “Teenage Fashion Model” and has included more ethnically diverse and curvier dolls, it unfortunately does little to change the engrained beliefs of young girls, who are now young adults, battling those childhood beliefs. “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world” is a famous phrase of the brand that grossly distorts young females’ expectations of themselves and what the world is supposed to be like. This causes a materialistic frame of mind that tells women of any age that in order to be considered beautiful and successful, you must have a mansion just as Barbie and her Dreamhouse, have a picture perfect romantic relationship like Barbie and Ken, and have the latest and greatest wardrobe just as Barbie did. 

These may be considered unrealistic and exaggerated expectations that young women today do not ascribe to. However, whether one likes it or not, everyone is drastically psychologically influenced by their childhood, even their favorite toys.