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Barbie Dolls and Body Image: How Toys Can Distort Us
by Cate Russell-Cole
6/19/2015 / Christian Living
"Barbie was more than a doll to me. She was a way of living: the Ideal Woman. When I played with her, I could make her do and be anything I wanted. Never before or since have I found such an ideal method of living vicariously through anyone or anything," one Barbie fan stated. Like many women, I have always struggled with a poor self image, and a lack of self confidence, and I know part of it comes from how I perceive how I look. I can remember having a dream house, stacks of clothes and a campervan. However, I can never remember paying any attention to Barbie's looks or figure. I loved the house and clothes, I wanted a wardrobe like that one day, and a home of my own. I also had plenty of other toys I played with equally. I don't know that I go green at the sight of supermodels either; however my better-endowed peers have always provided more realistic or "possible" examples which I compare myself by.
The great tragedy is that no matter how attractive someone is, we all seem to suffer from the same disease of having low self image, being dissatisfied and rejecting ourselves, as we expect rejection from others. It seems to me, all to be caused by the more general disease rejection is in our society. It infects through poor family relationships, competition in school classrooms, media images and values and failed friendships and romantic relationships. It all piles up endlessly until we wind up believing we're of lesser value, and we're failures in a good looking, fun-loving society.
Barbie has been designated a symbol of our values. She is banned in Montpelier Vermont where she's viewed as potentially dangerous to little girls' psychological development. Internet sites have been set up to protest against Barbie, books have been written to expose her, and she has made controversial front page news in the media, including the Wall Street Journal. The heated debates rage for and against the voiceless, motionless blonde who started life as an 'adult' toy which was sold in Europe. Her initial use explains her strange body proportions, however, we need to continue to address the issues she embodies.
In response to public demand, Mattel has made some changes. The 1998 range of Barbies to go on the market will include a "more contemporary" and anatomically realistic doll, with thicker waist, smaller bust and hips, and flat feet. A long overdue change, according to the critics, who staunchly claim that the beauty ideal represented in Barbie, is linked to eating disorders, and increasing demands for breast implants and cosmetic surgery.
Barbie may add to the already existing pressure in the minds of some children, but to combat the problems from eating disorders and a low self esteem, you need to also deal with the media, the fashion images, and the sum total of acceptance, love and praise these children receive from their families. Identity, self-esteem and body image influences originate more powerfully from how children are treated by those closest to them. Children who are abused, come from critical, loveless families, or who suffer great trauma and rejection may be limited and bruised by these early injuries far into their lives, Barbie or not.
The challenge we all face, is our ability to face the reality of where we're at, and what influences us as individuals, and be courageous enough to reach out for love, acceptance and healing. There is an identity we can make claim to which has more security, and a greater impact than any media or toy's image. It comes from the One who accepts us as daughters and sons, no matter how we feel about ourselves. He promises to give us double honour for our shame, and to heal our jaded, broken hearts.
If we learn to love each other and obey God on all levels, then will the super models slip off the catwalk, clothes come in a greater range of sizes, and makeup industries will watch profits decline. Maybe this is why there is no anorexia in heaven, we are so swamped and awestruck by the loving presence of God, we're blinded to our imperfections, or see them in the light of how insignificant they are to our Creator, who thinks we're perfect in the same way any truly loving parent idolises their children, their creation. Love covers a multitude of sins, and imperfections fade to nothing.
Recently, I read an article about "Donna," one Christian woman who lost 32kg in weight after calling out to God in desperation. Not only did she battle with being overweight, but she was depressed and felt there was no point in having dreams or plans, as she was never successful at anything anyway. God blessed and restored Donna, and she said in her testimony, "I know now that He loves me, and also likes me. Not just because He is God, but because I am me."
If you want to be loved, accepted, and you want to be Someone, reach out and embrace Jesus Christ, the One who actually delivers the promises He has made.
Isaiah 61:7 "Instead of your shame you will have double honour, and instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion." NKJV
Ephesians 1:3-6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons (and daughters) by Jesus Christ Himself, according to the good pleasure of His Will, to the praise and glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved." NKJV
Back Up Research:
Firstly a few facts from the American Psychiatric Association. Anorexia Nervosa is a refusal to maintain body weight normal for age, an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat even though underweight, and a distorted body image. People with Anorexia reduce food intake, and undertake extensive exercising. There may also be self-induced vomiting, and use of laxatives or diuretics to lose weight. People with Anorexia are unable to exert control over what they're doing; they may prepare meals for others, but will limit themself to a narrow selection of low calorie foods. They may also hoard, conceal or crumble food, and can have episodes of Bulimia as well. Most people with Anorexia will steadfastly deny or minimise the severity of their illness, and are uninterested or resistant to help. Anorexia Nervosa occurs predominantly in females, and starts in early to late adolescence.
Sufferers of Bulimia Nervosa can be overweight, underweight or normal weight. They lack control over their eating behaviour, and have recurrent episodes of binge eating. Again, there may be self-induced vomiting and use of laxatives or diuretics, strict dieting or fasting, or vigorous exercise to prevent weight gain. A dominant factor is a persistent over-concern with body weight and shape. Binges may be planned. They will include high calorie foods loaded with sugar, and easy to eat fast. Although eating binges may be pleasurable, they are followed by severe self-criticism and depression. Bulimia begins in adolescence or early adult life. Studies have found that frequently parents of people with Bulimia are obese, and obesity in adolescence can be related to the disorder.
Both disorders seem to relate to the individual striving towards perfectionism, and their desire to control their body to fit into the desired physical image which is prolific in media and fashion. If you are to believe advertising, having the right body also opens up the doors to a great personality, fun, belonging, acceptance, a great boyfriend (who will also have a great body), health and wealth. Many of us would credit ourselves with the 'sense' to know this is only advertising, but how much of that advertising is firmly lodged in our minds? It is probable that we are not even aware of how much we subconsciously and consciously respond to these cues in our environment. It's been said, "if you hear a report often enough, you figure it must be right and believe that is it true."
This article by Cate Russell-Cole is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Written in Australian English.
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