Lifestyle
Not the girl next door

Recovering anorexic Galia Slayen created this life-size Barbie to show the absurdity of the doll's proportions.

Credits: (Courtesy of Huffington Post)

MARILYN LINTON | QMI AGENCY

She stands at six-feet tall with a 39-inch bust, 18-inch waist and 33-inch hips. She’s also blonde, white, ageless and the ultimate consumer. Is this the role model you want for your own little girl?

“Hell, no!” most parents would say.

Yet the above characteristics describe a typical Barbie doll projected as an adult. The six-foot-tall version of Barbie (if she were a real person) was created four years ago by Galia Slayen, a young woman originally from Portland, Oregon, who made the wood and chicken wire papier mache sculpture as part of her therapy in recovering from anorexia.

She recently told the Today show that the sculpture, which she introduced this year to her college in New York State during an eating disorders awareness week, “started debates.” In a column she wrote last month for the Huffington Post, she says she dressed the life-size Barbie in her own clothes, including a skirt which was size double zero and “used to slip off my waist when I was struggling with anorexia.”

Slayen writes that she had “fond times” with her Barbie during childhood and that she felt the doll represented perfection and the ideal for young girls. She put her own skirt on the Barbie sculpture “to serve as a reminder that the way Barbie looks, the way I once looked, is not healthy and is not normal – whatever normal might mean.”

Given that there are two Barbie dolls sold every second in the world and that eating disorders are the most common chronic illnesses among female teens, creating a life-size sculpture is a good talking point, says Suzanne Phillips, program co-ordinator for Canada’s National Eating Disorder Information Centre, or NEDIC, which last week hosted a conference entitled Packaging Girlhood. “Barbie is one of the first role models that young girls have as a play toy. And she does represent that apparent ideal that we are told we should aspire to,” Phillips says.

“Not only are her looks unattainable, but she also comes with a heavy price tag. So from a socioeconomic angle, there’s an aspiration to being able to afford a Barbie and her many accessories.” Remember that Barbie and those accessories can take up a whole aisle in any Toys R Us store.

Barbie’s fans would argue that over the years Barbie has evolved into a representation of today’s career woman: There’s Barbie the astronaut, Barbie the doctor. But Phillips sees this differently: “Yes, you can get all sorts of professions, but Barbie herself doesn’t change. Her success is not linked to hard work and schooling; her achievement is linked to her physical appearance.”

The image of the papier mache Barbie brought to life is grotesque, says Phillips. “It mirrors the unrealistic and distorted images we see every day. We don’t see an image in a magazine or on TV that somehow hasn’t been altered. We lose sight of what is real and what is fiction.”

While playing with Barbie dolls and looking at fashion magazines doesn’t directly lead to an eating disorder, Phillips says the doll and typical women’s magazines represent status, friendships and success and they can lead to lowering our self-esteem and making us feel poorly about ourselves. “This, in turn, can lead to food and weight preoccupation and disordered eating,” she explains.

The fact that Barbie is white, blonde, ageless and rich is also unsettling to many parents: “While these dolls may be fun to play with, there’s a lack of imagery that is diverse. And if that’s all your child is seeing, that sameness, there is only that one perspective.”

Know the facts

According to NEDIC (www.nedic.ca), body image issues are prevalent in Canadian kids. Some survey results:

  • In a 2002 survey, 28% of girls in Grade 9 engaged in weight loss behaviours
  • Research done in 2008 shows that 40% of girls in Grade 10 perceived themselves as too fat
  • In a British study of 14- to-15-year-old teens, girls who engaged in strict dieting were 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder within six months than non-dieters
  • According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, in teens and adults 10 females to every male is diagnosed with an eating disorder

Barbie, get real!

Yet another Barbie statue, dubbed Get Real Barbie, was also created a few years ago – this time by a then 14-year-old teen who was inspired by a proportion lesson in her geometry class. Get Real Barbie has enjoyed touring throughout Massachusetts through the South Shore Eating Disorders Collaborative to raise awareness of body image issues. Some facts from that tour:

  • Barbie doll sales are targeted to girls ages three to 12
  • A girl typically collects seven Barbies during her childhood
  • More than a billion dollars worth of Barbie dolls and accessories were sold in 1993
  • If Barbie were a real woman, she would be nearly six feet, weigh 110 pounds and take a size three shoe. Her BMI would be 16, which fits the criteria for anorexia
  • She would walk on all fours due to her proportions
  • 1965’s Slumber Party Barbie came with a bathroom scale and a diet book
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