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The Barbie Effect: Is Barbie Good or Bad for Young Girls?

The Barbie Effect: Is Barbie Good or Bad for Young Girls?

Dolls have been entertaining children for millennia, but the scrutiny that parents shower upon them may well be a new phenomenon. From Peggy Orenstein's newly released book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, to the many Circle of Moms conversations about popular toys like the Bratz dolls, modern moms are particularly interested in how a girl's toys shape her perception of the world and herself. Moms seem to have particularly strong views on Barbie, with numerous Circle of Moms members debating whether she's an unequivocally bad influence on their little girls.

Why Moms are Anti-Barbie

Several Circle of Moms members vehemently argued that Barbie's unrealistic body proportions make her an indisputably bad influence on young children. As Julianne M., mom to one daughter, explained, "A doll with huge breasts is not appropriate for a little girl to play with, especially since Barbie has a tiny waist and thin hips. It teaches young girls to have unrealistic expectations of their own bodies. When they are older, they may have low self-esteem because of it." Other moms, including Vickie T., a mother of one son, voiced the opinion that Barbie dolls set a poor example for boys as well: "Barbies and princesses are such unhealthy, unrealistic examples of women that I wouldn't encourage them for children, regardless of their sex."

Why Moms are Pro-Barbie

Not all moms are anti-Barbie, however. Many Circle of Moms members allow their children to play with the dolls, citing three main reasons.


First, moms argue that Barbie's negative effect on self-esteem is exaggerated. "It's just a doll," argued mother of three Teresa, who herself played with Barbies and feels there was no negative impact. She added, "I really don't think many 5–7 year olds...actually analyze Barbie's breast size." Paula C. expressed a similar view: "My daughter played with Barbie and Bratz. She does not dress like Bratz now (she's 11) nor does she expect to be built like Barbie."

Other moms perceive Barbie as a positive creative influence. "I see them as a toy that promotes creative play," shared Jodi A., a mother of four children. "My daughter has several Barbie dolls, as well as a dollhouse for them…She also designs her own clothes for Barbie out of pieces of fabric, ribbon, elastic bands, and any other bits and pieces she can find. It really has stimulated her imagination in a positive way."

Still other moms, including Calgary mom Becky F., suggested yet another potential Barbie benefit—exposing young girls to diverse career options: "The thing I like about Barbie is that she has so many careers, including more traditionally male-dominated careers. She teaches little girls that they can be anything they want to be.

Want to share your opinion about Barbies, Bratz or other children's toys?

Whether you're interested in debating the merits of Barbie dolls, trading recommendations on Barbie movies, or discussing gender-specific toys, Circle of Moms is home to diverse, age-specific and debating communities where you can connect with other moms about all kinds of parenting topics.

Image Source: littlewizard91 via Flickr/Creative Commons

Join The Conversation
LucyRoman LucyRoman 4 years
I personally dont like to go overboard on how a Barbie can distroy my childs view of herself as she is growing. Its all about keeping things in perspective. Playing with Barbies should be a fun and positive experience for a child and if you see that she is not move on to something else. Keep it simple.
WendiWatson17026 WendiWatson17026 5 years
i agree cynthia bowen. im not going to get my daughter the barbies with the tiny skirts or the brat dolls .
WendiWatson17026 WendiWatson17026 5 years
well said dawn! its the media not some dumb doll. i cant wait to get our daughter her first barbie and get her a doll house and she her play barbies with her sister when she gets a lil older. she is just 16 months now but im sure it will come before we know it.
WendiWatson17026 WendiWatson17026 5 years
i totally agree crystal. i never had security issues when i was little playing with babrbies. my daughter is not going to be any different just would have more self esteem because she will grow up with 2 parents.
CoMMember13628505124743 CoMMember13628505124743 5 years
I always loved Barbie as a child and now my daughter (4) is a disney princess fanatic. I don't feel that either made me disillusioned or anything like that. So as long as she wants to play with them , I will buy them..however I do not buy Bratz dolls for my child or my nieces. I don't like that they dress like street THAT is a bad example.
TammyMcQueen TammyMcQueen 5 years
I loved Barbie and still do. She allowed me to be anything I wanted to be and helped me work out alot of issues I didn't feel I could talk to anyone else about.
Lakshmi3557108 Lakshmi3557108 5 years
Mmm....I played with Barbies as a young girl, as a woman of color, I don't like them as an adult and I wish I could keep them out of my daughter's life. But I can't. Every Barbie she owns, she got as a gift and she loves them the way that I did. I feel that if I try to "forbid' Barbies, she'll resent it. But the issues are daughter has expressed the "wish" to have long blonde hair. I remember wishing for blonde hair, white skin, and blue eyes also. It really really upsets me that my daughter is having those feelings. For me, even more than the body (Barbie's body is unattractive if you ask me), it was the face and coloring that had an impact on my perceptions of what beautiful looked like. I just hope to keep having conversations about the issues that Barbie brings up throughout her life.
AshlieMoore45124 AshlieMoore45124 5 years
My daughters two and has babies, their fun and help her be imaginative . Atleast she's not sitting in front of a TV...
ReneeMyers87462 ReneeMyers87462 5 years
I think it could be so much worse. I won't buy it for my daughters BUT it's not for them anyways! it's for the collectors & that's what you see now a days so i say it's a perfect barbie for today.
CarmenPerez17718 CarmenPerez17718 5 years
I grew up adoring Barbie and as a child not fully understanding her allure, but I assure you that her physical appearance was key. Not her career or any creativity she may inspire. These pro Barbie arguments don't make sense to me because there is no reason why a Childs toy requires a D cup for active play. Small children learn a great deal through active play and role playing and as parents we should scrutinize their toys (learning tools) as much as the food they digest for a healthy upbringing. I will nevervallow my daughter t play with Barbie or brats dolls. On a recentbtrip to the toy store I was mortified by what I saw. Did you all know that Barbie was originally an adult toy? Never intended for children.
JennaKing26603 JennaKing26603 5 years
I had Barbies growing up and I don't have a distorted view of how my body should look. Like the girls who play with Barbies don't have any REAL life role models, like moms, aunts, grandmothers, teachers, etc. that they can only have one role model--a plastic doll. Lame that people even consider blaming Barbie for anything like that. Unless you're a mom telling your 5-year-old while she plays with Barbie, "This is how you need to look when you grow up," I don't think most kids even put the two together and think of Barbie in that way.
JacquiRossi JacquiRossi 5 years
My 10 yr old daughter is just leaving the dolly play time she is a well rounded girl not wrapped up in body shapes, she is noticing though thanks to a few peers at school she is not as skinny as them, she has hips and thighs always has had them. She plays Netball, tennis, and swims every week so she is sporty and strong, and I don't allow junk in the house so food is not an issue, the ideas come from us and our feelings of inadequacy
LisaR31715 LisaR31715 5 years
The only think I don't like about barbie is the unrealistic parts. For the longest time I thought something was wrong with my breast because I had nipples and barbie didn't. lol :) I'm really not kidding.
BeccaMcCurry BeccaMcCurry 5 years
Did you know Barbie was originally created to be a gag sex toy? She was origionally made in Germany, as a joke. Think Specncers gifts. Immagine your 7 yr old playing with a sex toy! Why do girls have to be "comercialized"? Why can't they just play with dolls? Barbies makers spend a lot of time and money insuring moms and daughters don't see Barbie as a plastic sex toy, but as a legitimate play thing for young girls. I don't buy the hype. If Barbie were a real woman, she would not be able to stand. Her breasts are too large and her waist too small! Not only that, she would also be 10 feet tall! Gross distortion of reality. Just because you did something when you were young does not make it okay for your daughter. Just think about it. Don't buy in blindly to advertisers traps!
AmberHarrison AmberHarrison 5 years
On a side note - girls growing up thinking they need a diet when they are only 5 or that they need to lose a few pounds didn't hear it from barbie! They either heard it from mommy because face it, every little girl looks up to her mommy or she heard it at school. Stop blaming the doll and look in the mirror!
AmberHarrison AmberHarrison 5 years
I loved my Barbie's growing up and never did I once think that I was supposed to look like her. I didn't care what her measurments where, what her haircolor was or what her eye color was. I was much more interested in what adventure she was on. I had a bedtime barbie, princess barbies, career barbies and I had a barbie rv...the good ole days!! I never had self-esteem issues or the like because of barbie. Some parents really need to get their own life and leave barbie alone!
Carole87902 Carole87902 5 years
I was not allowed to play with Barbies as a kid at all. I was terribly jealous of my friends who had Barbies and spent way more time than I otherwise would have thinking about how great Barbie was. I think I spent a lot MORE time thinking about her shape, etc than I would have if it hadn't been such a big deal.
barbie1953 barbie1953 5 years
Barbie has grown since 1959...It's definitely not the same as it was back in the original release. It's way more now, but I always took exceptional care of my Barbie. I still have her. I think any thing that is given care and organization for over 50 years is a good learning experience...even if she looks better then her owner name is Barbie..and I endorse playing with my namesake!
MelissaMitchell94811 MelissaMitchell94811 6 years
I loved Barbie growing up,I may have cut a lot of hair from my Barbie lol but it's a girl thing and the fact that we can pass that along to our children is great,there are too many toys that are no longer on the market that were great 20,30 years ago that are not only "collected" rather then played with.Innocence is taken away so quickly by stereo typing,come on,it's a Barbie doll...not much could be said for the music videos and magazines that are all over the television and computer.
BethanyJoslyn BethanyJoslyn 6 years
opps, sorry, it didn't wanna post the first time and so i guess i accidentally posted it twice!
BethanyJoslyn BethanyJoslyn 6 years
ok, doesn't Barbie teach that everyone is different? and that everyone is beautiful in their own way? and to have your own style? i'm pretty sure thats what Barbie loves to teach! and that you can be whatever you want! i played with Barbies as a little girl and i loved them and i never felt like i had to look like Barbie! my 7 year old daughter already has a ton of Barbies and loves them all! Barbie is a freaking doll! her body has to be shaped so that the clothes will fit! no to mention most little girls aren't paying attention to Barbies measurements!
CrystalMockKlafki CrystalMockKlafki 6 years
All I have to say is Go Barbie!!! It ain't the doll who teaches our girls that they need to be stick then. Its the adults and other kids who harp on about there body's all the time. If they don't want there 10 yr olds to go on and on about how skinny they need to be, then stop saying how skinny you need to be when you already weigh 10 pounds less then whats healthy.
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