We have heard much about how the unrealistic and disproportionate Barbie may be providing young girls with an unrealistic ideal, but yesterday, Feb. 3, was the first time we heard from Barbie’s creator regarding this controversy. Kim Culmone, Mattel’s vice-president of design for Barbie, was the lead designer for Barbie, but has heretofore stayed mum as her creation takes the fall for damaging young girls’ body image.
However, perhaps due to recent projects highlighting the divergence of Barbie from the average woman (see Nickolay Lamm’s depiction of Barbie as an average woman), Culmone finally spoke up. In Barbie’s defense, Culmone stated that the doll was never meant to be realistic. Instead, Barbie’s infamous distorted proportions were created for the purpose of outfitting the doll.
“She was designed for girls to easily dress and undress,” Culmone told Fast Company’s Co.Design. “If you’re going to take a fabric that’s made for us, and turn a seam for a cuff or on the body, her body has to be able to accommodate how the clothes will fit her.”
Sadly, this comment is very reminiscent to the explanation of why models need to be so thin: to primarily act as hangers for the garments and to save on fabric costs. Is it worse that Barbie was designed to make it easier to dress her without thought to trying to create a positive role model for children to play with and look up to?
Culmone’s argument also does not hold much water, as the American Girl dolls manage to be easily dressed (perhaps even more so than Barbie) without causing ‘seam’ or ‘cuff’ problems and are not dramatically disproportionate. Instead, they represent a child and serve as a contrast to Barbie, with the focus being on the dolls’ histories and accomplishments rather than their beauty.
We may still not know whether Barbie does cause body dissatisfaction or engenders unrealistic ideals for young girls (although there is some evidence suggesting Barbie leads to lower self-esteem and a greater desire to be thin in younger girls), the question remains whether it is necessary to have a doll that reinforces society’s thin ideal. If we have alternatives, such as the American Girl dolls, why do feel the need to resort to a doll with unrealistic and frankly, bizarre, proportions?
Nickolay Lamm agreed when he created his more proportionate Barbie doll: “If we criticize skinny models, we should at least be open to the possibility that Barbie may negatively influence young girls as well. Furthermore, a realistically proportioned Barbie actually looks pretty good.”
So, perhaps, maybe it is time to start making toys using a conscious effort to present positive role models – for girls and boys – instead of focusing on finding excuses for defending the status quo. Don’t our children deserve that?