Sunday, June 27, 2010

Identity Crisis in Barbie World?

When I first entered Barbie World I was asked to create my avatar, which was pretty fun but totally unrealistic. This brought up the idea of Identity in this particular virtual world.

First I was thinking of the idea of sex. What if there are little boys out in the world that play with Barbies and want to play in Virtual Barbie? There are not avatars that are male or for boys to identify with. I know it is “Barbie World” which is typically associated with girls in our American society but why? Little boys should be allowed to play with Barbie if they please, and they should be allowed to enjoy the virtual Barbie world just like everyone else. There should be male avatars that encompass the male sex. Barbie World is pretty much communicating that only girls are allowed in this world and that boys who play with Barbie are not wanted or allowed in the virtual world.

This brings me to my second topic of avatars and identity in virtual Barbie. The avatars available to choose from are so unrealistic to real girls body types…who would have thought?!? (sarcasm) I mean this is “Virtual Barbie” could we really expect the avatars to look realistic. I once read that if Barbie was a real person her intestines would not fit in her stomach and her back would break because of the size of her chest. It’s interesting to view Barbie in real world compared to the avatars you can choose in this virtual world. The avatars kind of look like a mix between an in-larged Polly Pocket and a strange Barbie. In Barbie World there is only one body type you can choose from which is not good for young girls joining the world. Not every girl joining Virtual Barbie is skinny and they do not allow adjusting of the body type. First, these young girls are buying Barbies which are not exemplifying a true scale of how a human body should be, and then the virtual world also creates a false image of a girl’s body. The avatars in Barbie World even have boobs and the majority of girls entering this world probably do not have boobs yet. I guess the question is: what are these images teaching young girls in our society about their identities?

Identity shapes an individual’s personality and self-esteem. Our identities make us who we are, and how we view ourselves. In my own opinion I think Barbie and Barbie World are creating images for young girl’s on how they SHOULD look based on society’s standards not how they ACTUALLY look. In our society there is such a huge emphasis on being thin rather than being healthy. Maybe if we had better images for young girls to identify with we could change the view of beauty in our society. It is not healthy for these young girls to think that they need to be skinny to fit in and be beautiful. We should have more of a focus on being healthy and in shape rather than just being skinny. Girls should learn to be comfortable in their own skin and to be proud of what their mothers gave them, rather than trying to conform to a false identity to feel pretty. These avatars can be adjusted some to provide girls with a sense of autonomy and uniqueness but the physique of the avatar can not be adjusted for girls who are larger or skinnier.

In the future Barbie World should incorporate male avatars into their world and also create a tool so young girls and others entering the virtual world can adjust/edit their avatars to look more like themselves. I think if they made these changes more girls would feel better about themselves and more comfortable knowing that their outward appearance is accepted in both the virtual and actual world.
CLASS QUESTION : In your own opinion do you think things like actual Barbie dolls and virtual worlds like Barbie World impact how younger girls view their own identity and body figures? Do you think that the images of Barbie's physique can impact how young girls create their own image of what beauty is & how they should personally look to be beautiful?
What are your own views/opinions of boys playing/having Barbies and girls playing/having GI.Joe dolls? Do you think that switching gender specific toys in children is good or bad?


  1. I think that boys having and playing with Barbies is fine - I think it's no better or worse than them having GI Joes. My core issue is the expectation that we must limit ourselves to a specific set of toys based on a constructed binary (i.e. "boys" get "boy toys," "girls" get "girl toys" and there are no other options nor are children allowed to play outside their assigned set). In that sense, I don't think "switching" is either good or bad - I think that children truly having a full range of play options open to them is ideal.

    Also connected to this, while I think that Ken exists to reinforce an expectation of heterosexual ideals on girls, I think it could be a great inroads to start letting boys onto the site. The boys could create (likely equally problematic in terms of what you address in the first question) Ken avatars and wander around virtual Barbie World like how the BarbieGirls do.

    I have a feeling that an argument of safety would be brought up (eek! boys in here?! It's unsafe for the girls now!). I would reject this on many grounds. Primarily, there is no external verification of sex/age - so who knows how many boys/men are already on Barbie World. Also, a huge thing for me is that fear of women/girls' safety is a common tool of oppression - we use false concerns over safety to limit range of mobility and access (especially problematic because the "attackers" we're expected to fear are nearly always male and I see very little done to address the accountability of men in this).

    Hmmmm... Maybe we could harness parent's sexist and cissexist fears to get boys access to Barbie world - we could highlight that any boy interested in Barbie who wants to participate in this world is forced to roleplay a female character, which many may fear would lead to him becoming gay and/or trans. Ha ha we could exploit their -isms!

  2. Hey Krysten!
    I definitely think that Barbies, as well as Barbie World, has an impact on how young girls view their own bodies and identity. Instead of creating their own image of beauty, they are being told how to look, what to wear and what activities to participate in (shopping, mostly). Barbie does a fantastic job of reinforcing gender roles, especially according to the idealistic images of society. Young girls innocently play with their favorite doll without realizing that they are being directed into a world of skinny blonde women with a large chest and perfect smile. And if you were to hand any 6 year old a heavy set Barbie with acne, she would already see that Barbie as ugly and undesirable. These girls are too young to realize that each person is completely different from one another, and there is no reason for everyone to try and fit the mold of Barbie. But they will try to anyway, because Barbie is the most desirable character in their young lives. She is pretty, has handsome Ken, goes shopping, has a convertible and a mansion, and plays dress up all day. I do not know any girl that wouldn’t like to have all of that. But I realize this is unrealistic- young minds do not. They are being fed completely false information, and are submerging themselves into a virtual world of gratifying, yet impossible ideologies. I am not saying that by playing with a doll a young girl will automatically develop an eating disorder, dye her hair blonde and purchase blue contacts. But I do believe that Barbie has a subtle, yet powerful, effect on the way young girls view themselves and create their own images.

  3. I think that Barbie dolls and the virtual Barbie world definitely have an impact on how young girls shape their identities and gives them an ideal for their body figures. Seeing that the doll is very tall and has a slender figure with huge boobs, and no flaws, creates what they know as beautiful.
    I remember babysitting my 7 year old neighbor Sydney, while she was playing Barbies with her friend and they were saying they wished they could be as pretty as barbie when they grow up. Sydney also seemed somewhat resentful of her brunette hair because Barbie has long blond hair, as did her friend she was playing with.
    Hearing 7 year olds say this made me think completely differently of Barbie. Obviously she has had an impact on these girls self image, which was really shocking to me because when I was 7 I definitely don't remember feeling any pressure to look a certain way, or even strive to hopefully look like my Barbie dolls some day. I think it is sad that there seems to be much more pressure to fit the ideals of society's definition of beauty at younger and younger ages.