Barbie: Women’s Bodies within the 2023 Fashion Industry
Annabel Jeffery discusses the changing ‘trends’ of Women’s Bodies in line with Mattel’s Barbie franchise.
Since her creation in 1959, Barbie has been a toy box staple for many little girls growing up
worldwide. Barbie’s tagline is ‘you can be anything’. However, can she really ‘be
anything’ if her dimensions mean that as a real woman, she would have to crawl on all fours, only having room in her torso for half a liver and a few inches of intestine?
Introducing this role model for girls at such a young and pivotal age has its pros and cons: whilst her
empowerment of women in work and female autonomy is essential, many little girls and
women will not recognise that the odds of finding a living woman with Barbie’s waist size would
be one out of every 2.4 billion.
Barbie has seemed to add fuel to the fire of appearance culture on girls and
women; a constant dictator on what areas of our bodies need to be “worked on” or defined in
order to be socially desirable. Almost as soon as these changes are made, what society defines as ‘trendy’ completely changes. Take the changes from the 2000s to the 2020s. The naughties saw the rise of toned, slim bodies inspired by Victoria’s Secret models, which shortly turned on its head in the 2010s under the influence of Kim Kardashian’s curvy hourglass figure. Being a physical role model for so many, her claims of having lost 7kg in a shocking three weeks to fit into a historic Marilyn Monroe gown signalled the start of further change. 2023 has seen the resurgence of the unnerving ‘heroin chic’ trend of the early 1990s. It is notably associated with Kate Moss’s extremely skinny frame, dark circles under the eyes and pale complexion.
The naughties saw the rise of toned, slim bodies inspired by Victoria’s Secret models, shortly turned on its head in the 2010s under the influence of Kim Kardashian’s curvy hourglass figure.
Being a woman and trying to keep up with societal trends in body shape and many other areas is exhausting, disturbing, and for some, traumatic. In 2022 the NHS announced that it was treating a record number of young people for eating disorders, and this year has announced that hospital admissions for eating disorders have reached a record high. Women are suffering and even dying of eating disorders for a multitude of reasons, but these so-called ‘trends’ are an added factor that certainly cannot be helping.
So what is Barbie’s responsibility in 2023 when it comes to promoting diversity?
So what is Barbie’s responsibility in 2023 when it comes to promoting diversity? The film
thankfully sees a range of women playing Barbies. We see women of colour, Hispanic and
mixed-race representation, pregnant and plus-sized women, but critics have highlighted that this sudden change seemingly ignores Barbie’s past lack of diversity. In other words, the damage is already done. After all, the film does see the ‘stereotypical’ thin, white, blond, cis-gendered woman take the lead. The film’s efforts at diversity as Mattel’s creation of such an unrealistic role model for women seems a token gesture at trying to make up for its decades’ worth of damage. As for the fashion industry, introducing a spattering of plus-size models and calling it ‘diversity’ simply isn’t going to cut it. There is still much further to go to liberate women of such problematic expectations.