“She Is A Doll Not A Selfie!” 5 Things We Learned From Successful Women Who Played With Barbie As Kids

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A recent Policy Mic article talked about a new scientific study that concluded, “Barbie is bad for little girls.” Wondering if she’s truly the villainous vixen she’s so often made out to be, we were urged into action after a reader suggested we find out how many of today’s successful women played with Barbie as children.

First you should know that the study drew its conclusion from this, “… it may actually be the image of Barbie herself that hems in career imagination; Barbie is one of the only toys marketed to little girls that has a mature female body, and was modeled after the German post-war, erotic doll Bild Lilli. Being confronted with her impossibly tiny waist, big boobs and long legs conveys ‘a sexualized adult world to young girls’ that can unintentionally limit their imagination about their future professions.”


Sharing this info as contextual background, Women You Should Know put out an informal call to career women and female entrepreneurs, via our Facebook page, and asked, “Did you play with Barbie as a kid?”

We got a slew of really interesting and spirited responses from women from all professional fields… i.e. an Immunotoxicology grad student, a serial entrepreneur, a Statistician with a Masters in Mathematics, a sports junkie with a Master in Telecomms, a museum professional, a high school biology teacher, a nurse with multiple degrees, a music industry exec, etc., etc. Here’s what we learned from the very impressive women who chimed in.

5 Things We Learned From Successful Women Who Played With Barbie As Kids

Barbie_SI1. 33.3% of the respondents did NOT play with Barbie. As for why? In some cases, their moms would simply not allow it. In others, the choice was much more personal: “didn’t care for dolls at all”; “Barbie creeped me out”; “I could not stand how boring her life was”.

2. Of the 66.6% who did play with Barbie, she was not their end-all-be-all toy. She was thrown into the playtime mix with other dolls/toys like Mr. Potato Head, Power Rangers, He-Man, Star Wars guys, and plastic soldiers, along with outdoor sports/games.

3. Barbie was viewed as a toy, not a role model, with one woman exclaiming, “She is a doll not a selfie!”

4. Barbie was a vehicle for imagination. Most involved her in elaborate adventures and roll-playing games where she was cast as a strong character.

5. Barbie had no effect on self-esteem or career ambitions.

The most interesting concept to emerge from our informal poll was… Barbie as a scapegoat or “victim”, NOT a diabolical villain. While the study says her image impacts girls in a negative way, the majority of our respondents seem to think that the changing marketing landscape, in addition to changing societal behaviors are the true sources of this negativity, with Barbie’s current bad rap being a bi-product of that.

Our respondents commented on the fact that marketing has become so insidious and genderized today, as very distinct lines are being continuously drawn in the sandbox separating girl/pretty/pink from boy/blue/tough. So while none felt affected by Barbie’s “impossibly tiny waist, big boobs and long legs”, the women who responded (girls of previous generations) were also not assaulted by as many images of female “perfection” as girls are today.

Some see the study’s findings as a means of dodging responsibility and blaming a doll that has been around for decades for issues affecting girls today. Others called it pure over analysis of a cultural icon.

While our poll was certainly not scientific, it’s findings are nonetheless interesting.

Our Favorite “I Played With Barbie” Anecdote From A Very Successful Woman

“The usual Barbie scenario went something like this: Barbie was wearing Ken’s clothes (those skirts were too tight for running), Ken was naked (he only had one outfit, and Barbie’s dresses wouldn’t fit over his shoulders) and cast off in a corner somewhere. Barbie would fly around in Buck Rogers’ space ship for a while, then jump from (get thrown out of) a tree with a parachute. When my grandma witnessed this in her back yard, she promptly made Barbie a nice pant suit. Mattel really should issue a Business Casual Paratrooper Barbie.”

WYSK reader who has her MA in Gender Studies, is a welder/artisan/small business owner, as well as a professional pastry chef

  • gargouille

    I’m also a successful woman who played with Barbie and feels like it did not doom me to stupidity and conformity. That said, I think it’s impossible for us to calculate the insidious effects it had on our ambitions–or, to put a fine point on it, how our bodies had to look to help us achieve those ambitions. There’s a VERY visible tendency in the world of financial success to put women in shoes that point their toes, cause them to have their faces worked on constantly to look smooth and young, tacitly demand that they diet until they have no body fat (but retain perky breasts), and hike skirts far above the knee to show fit legs with no veins. Now, where have I seen that look before?…I’m afraid we’ve all been affected–men, too, of course, in how they judge women’s success–whether we can consciously feel it or not, and whether or not we like it.

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  • PiaGuerrero

    I think the point is that Barbie for our generation, is different that what she represents for today’s little girls. I played with Barbies. I cut her hair, washed it so it was a gnarly mess, drew on her with permanent marker, etc. She even had her hand chewed off by my dog (and I still played with her as it wasn’t a time when you just ran out and bought a new doll made in China for 10c). I too had a bunch of other stuffed animals/toys to play with. None of them were highly gendered/pink/princesses the way girl’s toys are marketed today. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV when mom was not home. I played outside with neighborhood kids until the sun came down. We all put plays on for the neighborhood. Rode bikes, walked to the park. Boredom was the norm and it allowed our imaginations to soar beyond the confines of what today’s digital media landscape and advertising’s influence allow. It is that context and history that makes the stories of these women very different than the stories of girls playing with dolls today. It’s comparing apples to oranges.