Normal Barbies

A footnote to Lowry Heussler´s post on anorexic fashion models. The Daily Mail of all places has a little gallery of images from an experiment by graphic artist Nikolay Lamm. He made a Barbie with the observed average proportions of 19-year old (presumably American) girls:

To me – and I have no reason to think my tastes in the matter are outliers – the normal Barbie is considerably more attractive. Would you, straight male reader, prefer the anorexic official Barbie, with her stringy arms and thighs, giraffe neck, and reproductively dangerous pelvis?

That doesn´t matter, unlike the possible effect on the younger girls who play with Barbies.

Lamm asks a very good question:

People argue that a toy can’t do any harm.
However, if we criticise 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 in the pictures I produced.
So, if there’s even a small chance of Barbie in its present form negatively influencing girls, and if Barbie looks good as an average sized woman in America. What’s stopping Mattel from making one?


  1. rachelrachel says


    Dolls have rarely been realistically proportioned, and I’m not sure that they ought to be.

    Barbie takes a lot of abuse, but nobody complains about Blythe, with the enormous head and gigantic eyes.

    I’m not sure how the preferences of straight males matter — they aren’t the target market for these dolls.

    I find the skinny one to be cuter — as a toy to play with. If I saw a real woman with those proportions walking down the street, I think, what a freak!

  2. Keith Humphreys says


    Barbie already did this 20+ years ago. It was called the “Happy to be me” Barbie. They were not popular with little girls but you can probably find them on eBay.

  3. Lowry Heussler says


    I don’t know anything about psychology, or Barbie, but I have to tell you all this story. A friend of mine, a passionate feminist, had a little girl who went nuts for Barbie. Mom could not deprive her daughter of the doll, and the clothes, but endeavored to offset the harm by pointing out the obvious, i.e., “don’t you think Barbie cares too much about clothes,” and “Barbie doesn’t look like a real woman,” etc.

    Finally the little girl explained it to her mother in an exasperated tone:

    “Mom, Barbie is a *doll*.”

  4. Ben Rogers says


    @Keith Humphreys: “Happy To Be” was an independently manufactured doll and not associated with Mattel. You are correct that sales tanked.

  5. Manju says


    RBC commentators are too pessimistic. In the 1950′s the ideal woman was plump by our standards. Marilyn, etc. Well somebody decided to change things so we got Twiggy. Boom, everyone fell into line no questions asked. As anyone who has ever walked thru an art museum while looking at fat women on canvases knows, beauty is more of a social construction than we think.

    But you gotta get the right construction workers. You can’t appear to be doing good. Nobody likes that. Not sexy. You gotta get Anna Wintour aboard.

  6. Fred says


    Something about the face of the Barbie doll sparked recognition. Then it hit me that Barbie’s head looks like Angelina Jolie. Pretty much the body style too.
    While Jolie is interesting in appearence and as an actor I never saw her as pretty.

    My nephew makes his living creating miniature sculptures of fantasy characters. He explained to me the differences between making large figures and miniatures. Many adjustments need to be made in proportans. Hands, feet and head must be enlarged to an extent that would look grotesque in a large figure. It is not a matter of style but a reality of human perception.
    It should also be noted that a Barbie doll is made to “wear” clothing that is very small but should fit as if it were normal size. The fabric and stitching have an unavoidable thickness and stifness so that filling them with a normal proportioned body would make the clothing look stuffed and silly.
    I wonder what the dolls above would look like if instead of the mini strap dresses, the dolls were attired in clothing with sleeves like a jacket and long pants. I’m pretty sure the normal proportioned doll’s clothing would look bulky and stiff, not normal at all.
    “Mom, Barbie is a doll.” Wisdom out of the mouthes of babes?
    And just to note: When I look at fotos of myself and my wife when we were in our twenties I realise just how skinny we were, ribs sticking out and all. I certainly didn’t miss any meals back then. Some people really are normally thin and what’s wrong with that?

    • Warren Terra says


      Really? I find the head of the Barbie doll the most freakish part of it. That high forehead, the exaggerated cheekbones and hollow cheeks, the oversized eyes and eyebrows … really, it just looks odd and unfriendly.

      As to whether Jolie is pretty … I’m fairly sure a lot of people have found her attractive. In particular, I remember watching The Tourist, and while the plot made no sense whatsoever the reaction of Johnny Depp’s character to Jolie’s appearance and interest seemed completely plausible.

      • Fred says


        I agree that the Barbie doll looks rather freakish. It is a charicature of sexiness. I feel the same about Jolie’s looks. I think her charm comes from her graceful way of presenting herself and she is attractive in spite of her looks. I don’t think this is uncommon in theater and film. Many entertainment “sex godesses” upon close examination are fairly average or even odd looking but know how to present themselves and project personality. The word art is the root of artificial.

  7. prasad says


    It’s supernormal stimulus, exaggerating what’s salient out of all proportion. I don’t think “action figures” like those He-Man dolls I had as a child are realistic either. And to me the thought that this must be a problem seems more like a piety beloved of Serious People than anything.

    • James Wimberley says


      Women´s larger pelvises and plumper buttocks and thighs than those of average men aren´t salient?

      The problem is that the dolls reinforce a wider pattern. For some reason women tend to be more anxious about their bodies than men are about their own, and constantly presenting outlier and even pathological skinniness as ideal reinforces this anxiety. Anorexia is a very serious disease, with a high death rate (5-20%, according to WebMD). This is not an artificial problem, like complaints about the Sports Illustrated swimwear issue.

      • prasad says


        I suspect the differences in bust size and hip/waist proportions stand out from a greater distance, and are easier to exaggerate while retaining overall toy dimensions.

        I do realize anorexia is a big problem (and that the Onion isn’t news). There’s lots of research on biological, environmental and cultural factors here, but evidence of the impact of media depictions is not that strong imo, compared to the outsize role it plays in the public discussion. The connection between personality traits and anorexia for example is stronger than that established with media. I harbor some suspicion this public discussion is to some extent a piety we emphasize, because it’s a more engaging storyline and lets us do social criticism.

  8. Bill says


    The preferences of straight male are relevant here how? Next you’ll be wondering why runway models are not attractive to straight men.

    • James Wimberley says


      On the first question, to the extent that the anxieties of young people about their appearance are focused on attractiveness to the opposite sex, it would be helpful if they were based on better information about what the opposite sex actually likes. Since it seems (in the case of men’s taste in women at least) that the ideal is quite a lot closer to the median than the media version, a lot of the anxiety is misplaced, and greater realism would definitely increase welfare.

  9. Cherry Blosem says


    Great blog! I agree, Barbie is a role model for many young girls and can definitely have an impact in the future. Whether this is a good or bad thing is purely down to opinion. For modelling and promotional staff at great prices visit