Should We Have Fat Barbie Dolls?

Fat BarbieThere has been all kinds of media hoopla about a Facebook community focused on plus-size modeling that put up this picture and asked if we should have a “plus-sized” Barbie. A number of blog readers have asked what I thought so here it is.

Let’s start with the most obvious.  The argument that I saw most against the doll was some form of the patently ridiculous notion that such a doll would promote obesity.  Put another way, this argument suggests that if fat kids ever see themselves represented as anything other than negative stereotypes, if they aren’t constantly given the message that there is one acceptable body and theirs isn’t it, if they aren’t ceaselessly bombarded with the message that they should hate and be ashamed of their bodies, then they’ll never hate themselves enough to make healthy choices and take care of their bodies. Seriously?

This idea, the myth of promoting obesity, has to die.  It’s dangerous and it is used to oppress people based on their physical appearance. It’s used as an excuse to keep fat people who don’t do what the oppressors want us to do (self-deprecate, self-hate, diet, and apologize for existing) hidden and beaten down by stigma.  And it self-perpetuates because people, including kids, don’t take care of things that they hate, and that includes their bodies.

If it wasn’t so sad I would be amused that so many of the people who are stricken at the idea that a fat Barbie may promote unhealthy behavior have absolutely no concern with a Barbie whose proportions are literally impossible for women to achieve.  If people are really worried about kids wanting to be like dolls, then they should be lobbying to take Barbie off the shelves.

Everybody deserves to see themselves represented in popular culture.  Fat people, people with disabilities, People of Color, everyone.  We should all be able to turn on the television, or go to the movies, or open a magazine and see someone who looks like us. Everyone deserves the chance to have and be a role model.  Every kid deserves the chance to have a doll that looks like them, so that they can put themselves into their play and dreams. Sure it’s profitable to the beauty and diet industries to start teaching kids, especially girls, as early as possible that their bodies are not, and never will be, good enough. But is that really ok with us?

Part of the reason that the impossible to achieve beauty ideal is so easily perpetuated is that so many adults buy into the system.  Spending time, money, and energy trying to get as close to Barbie as possible.  This system is set up so that we spend all of our energy trying to gain power within it and convincing our daughters to do the same (though it will only ever allow a tiny few to do so), that we don’t have time, money or energy to realize that we are powerful enough to dismantle the system.

The lack of representation doesn’t just hurt kids who never see a positive representation of themselves, it also reinforces the message to every other kid that bodies that don’t look like Barbie are wrong and bad.  Rhetoric like that I am seeing around this Barbie doll teaches kids that it’s ok to stereotype fat kids and that leads to bullying.

On the other side, many fat people objected to this Barbie’s look – that the way that she is fat isn’t the same way that they are fat.  There were a lot of what I found to be disturbing comments from people in the Plus Size Model focused Facebook community where this idea was first floated about how fat women are “supposed” to look  (less chins more “curves”  meaning – it seems – a hourglass shape with a “thin” face) and, perhaps most disturbingly about a “healthy sized” Barbie, based on the mistaken notion that body size and health are the same thing, a lot of it’s ok to be this fat but not that fat etc.

I’m personally sick of the only “good” fat body being represented as an hourglass figure with a thin face (even if it takes a highly skilled retouching artist to get it done) so I’m fine with this fat Barbie’s chins.  I think the big issue here is that currently we are discussing only two sizes of Barbie when the best possible thing, with Barbie, as with the media, television, movies etc. is to be as representative as possible instead of trying to justify a lack of representation.

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37 thoughts on “Should We Have Fat Barbie Dolls?

  1. I would love to see all kinds of Barbies. Fat ones, thin ones, black, white, brown, polka dotted, little people Barbies, Barbie in a wheelchair, Barbie with leg braces, amputee Barbies, trans Barbies… hell, I want a giant Barbie party where every single one looks completely different.

    Oh, and I happen to love that Fat Barbie has a double chin. It means we actually have a feature in common beyond blue eyes and being fat.

    Over the decades I’ve seen Barbie be a nurse, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, an astronaut, a veterinarian, a fashion model, a ballet dancer, a roller skater, a cheerleader, a tennis champion, a gymnast, a mom, a go-go dancer, a race car driver, and the star of half a dozen or more iconic Hollywood films. Why the hell am I not allowed to see her be fat?

    PS: when I was a kid, I had the Diahann Carrol as Julia Barbie (It was a series on TV about a nurse that my mother and I watched together back in the early seventies). Somehow it never made me grow up to be either a nurse or black. Instead I grew up one of the Transparent Peoples with a nearly disabling squeamishness about both needles and blood.

    So much for the role model thing.

    1. I had all the weird Barbies when I was a kid – not one actual Barbie® in the bunch! I had Cher (whose hair is, to this day, one giant, raging dreadlock of nylon snarl and whose skin-tight clothes were next to impossible for childish fingers to get on and off that rubber body), the Bionic Woman, all four Charlie’s Angels, Sindy, Growing-Up Skipper (which was guaranteed to screw up your idea of sexuality and boobs), and a variety of dollar-store cheapies. I still have them all in a small red trunk in my basement.

      And yet – I didn’t grow up to be a pop star, a sexy female detective, or a cyborg. Imagine.

      1. I didn’t have a Bionic Woman doll, but I did have a whole slew of science toys and anatomy and medicine books.

        Yeah, I wanted to be a cyborg. Still kinda do! (As probably evidenced by the gleeful lecture I gave my dad the other night regarding a realistic portrayal of faulty wetware installation into a human brain. He was watching some new show called Intelligence. Trust me, someone with a visual enhancement chip that messed up would NOT lie quietly in a coma.)

  2. Heh, there’s no way American culture will positively portray someone like me in the media, at least not in my lifetime. Fat queer disabled nerd surrounded by cats and in constant pain? Living with her parents in her late thirties? Yeah, the media says I do nothing but mooch off the government, scam pain meds, and scarf down ice cream by the gallon while moaning that I’ll never find my One True Love (who, in fact, has a penis, which will cure what ails me). Bah. I call bullshit.

    (As for the true love, I had to drop her off at the airport at six in the morning after two weeks together. While my dad’s technophobia caused some issues, she and I had a great time, and I hope May gets here soon so I can see her again, assuming someone doesn’t give me a plane ticket to visit her over spring break, too. I has a lonely for now, but I just have to remind myself it’s temporary.)

    I really like that Barbie. She’s cute and happy, and looks like she gives no fucks. Make a few more to expand the repertoire of human racial experience, and I’d let my hypothetical kids play with them. 🙂

  3. You observed that some fat people objected to the “New Barbie” because of the fact that she is not fat in the same way they are. I experienced a similar reaction when I joined another fat acceptance blog about a decade ago. In essence, I came right into the middle of a thread where some fat people were saying that “super obese” people, like me, should not be part of the size acceptance movement, since WE are, obviously, TOO FAT to be anything other then the slovenly gluttons that all fat peope are accused of being. I was shocked, to say the least, that I found myself rejected from a community that was allegedly about supporting fat people against abuse. It’s tough being fat. But, when you have dieted your whole life trying not to be fat, and end up fatter than ever because of it, it seems there is virtually nobody who will accept you for who you are. I know I’m not alone in experiencing this.

      1. On the other hand, there was a time when people who were not fat enough were discouraged from participating in size acceptance events.

        1. Yeah but back in the day when the fattest women were the royalty of Fat Acceptance the movement was in bed with the Fat Fetish Community.

          What is the reason today why “Death fat” bodies are invisible in Fat Acceptance?

        2. It’s unpleasant to be rejected from the group you feel you should be able to associate with, for not being what they want/expect. (no matter what the reason– too heavy, too light, whatever the case)
          It’s excellent that size acceptance has opened up a lot over the years. Because it can benefit people of all sizes so it should be for people of all sizes.
          Body shaming affects all of us.

          This is why safe weight spaces are really awesome. I’m on the heavy side, but I am very happy to support someone who is thin if they are being skinny shamed, and likewise, am very happy to be supported in the other direction. 🙂

  4. *We should all be able to turn on the television, or go to the movies, or open a magazine and see someone who looks like us.*

    That’s not all. While I do agree with you about appearance, we also do not need to see a fat person represented as lazy or stupid. It isn’t just about appearance, although it IS true that appearance is usually the first thing one notices about people. As a fan of “Friends” I can’t tell you how much the ‘FAT’ Monica offended me, and the idea that all her problems were solved when she lost the weight.

    1. True. I want see people who look like me, and I want to see them portrayed as *people,* not cautionary tales and stereotype reenforcement.

      TW – sexual assault

      Example of a problematic portrayal: My mom used to be addicted to those episodic crime dramas. I watched one episode with her (don’t remember what show) that was supposed to be about violence against fat people. Not a bad subject to tackle… except every time they flashed back to the victim while she was alive, she was bemoaning her lack of a love life while eating something “unhealthy” (burgers, pizza, creamy alcoholic beverages, you know the stereotype) while some tearful dewey-eyed friend or relative disapproved. So instead of the moral being, “fat women are targeted for violence because they’re fat and that’s wrong” it came out more like, “Don’t eat these things, thin women, or you’ll get fat, men will stop talking to you, and you’ll become so desperate for love you’ll follow the first guy who shows you kindness into a secluded area and get raped and be so miserable you’ll commit suicide” or maybe “If you see your friends eating these things, make sure you crank up the fat stigma or… [repeat previous broken Aesop].” I could do without THOSE portrayals.

    2. I´m with you here! I love watching Friends, but Fat Monica made me cringe my teeth. And showing that she heard a guy saying she was fat and then she became thin for the rest of her life? Yeah, right.

      1. I did a paper for a class, and since I am a ‘woman of size’ I did the paper on the lack of women of size in the popular media. It led me to all kinds of facts – like for example, women who were interviewed said they’d rather live with a bank robber than a fat man. Property agents would rather rent to a thin person. That’s to say nothing about the people who hired women who are less qualified – but not fat – over a well qualified but fat woman. (This may work for men, too, but the topic was ‘women of size’.) I got the first A+ ever from the professor, but found out so much stuff that I’d always suspected but didn’t know.

  5. When I first heard the story, all I could think was that, rather than a “fat” Barbie as such, I’d prefer that all little girls (and boys, for that matter) could have an “Eff-You-and-Your-Unsolicited-Opinions-about-my-Body” Barbie.

    Still pretty much thinking that, really.

      1. There is a character in the Monster High universe- Sue Nami- who’s fat and illustrated as quite attractive. She doesn’t have a doll, though, and I’m not holding my breath for her to get one.

        Now I’m going to run away and hide before y’all start wondering why I know so much about Monster High. XD

        1. This is how she was described on the Monster High Wikia:

          “Sue Nami is a water creature, and the assistant of Headless Headmistress Bloodgood. Described as somewhat ugly with a wrestler’s physique, she’s in charge of keeping things shipshape at Monster High, and takes her job very seriously. She’s quite humourless and goes about her tasks with maximum efficiency, often barging past students and soaking them in water. She refers to every student she meets as ‘non-adult entity’.”

          So it seems they just wanted a fat bully character, because you can only be “freaky fabulous” if you’re size zero.

          1. I took a look at their size, they have a literal skeleton girl.


            Referencing pro-ana culture is literally rebelling against nothing. I’m so tired of these people pretending they’re rebelling against the mainstream while promoting mainstream’s message that only those who starve themselves deserve fashion. Oh, and don’t think I missed the appropriation of Day of the Dead. I’m actually embarassed by them now. I even bought a Draculara doll which I never opened to use with the Mattel tie-in app for. I’m probably going to return it.

            I’m sorry if this upset you as a fan, I’m not upset at the people who enjoy them. I just find all the faux rebellion so irritating, I guess I really shouldn’t have expected an actual rebellious doll line to ever go mainstream. I’m disappointed.

            1. Oh, no upset at all; I agree the dolls *should not be that thin,* and the YA-level books pissed me off like you’ wouldn’t believe (“Prejudice is wrong! Fight it! Dig in your heels! But lose weight and have plastic surgery to fix that butt-ugly nose of yours, even if it ruins your singing voice, because being conventionally attractive is more important. Rebel! Rebel! Rebel!”). I do like the shows and the MG-level books better, though.

          2. She isn’t one of the bullies, though. She’s sympathetic and the other characters generally like her, trust her, and recently, go to her first when something’s worrying them. I’m not going to say there aren’t problematic aspects- the whole idea of her being “tomboyish” (I can’t recall her ever being described or insinuated as ugly) in spite of being every bit as fashionable and pretty as anyone else in illustrations- and if someone comes up with the “brilliant plot twist” of making her a villainous mastermind because fat people r natural liars lol I’ll throw out my whole damn collection. But she’s one of those weird cases like Ursula from TLM, where I’ll admit there are issues but still find myself liking more than I don’t, at least at this point.

  6. I’d love to have a doll like that.

    And did I mention I find that “showing kids fat people in a neutral-to-positive light will make them all want to grow up to be fat” ludicrous? Because it’s really ludicrous. That’s like saying my admiring Bowser and Donatello put me in danger of growing up a turtle.

  7. She’s cute. I’d buy her in brunette and preferably in something not Pepto pink!

    Her tiny little feet will be no more helpful on standing or walking around than they are for standard issue Barbie…but whatever.

  8. I love the idea of a plus size barbie!

    On Facebook a group I follow said that there should be plus size Disney princesses and princes, I do agree with that.

    Some guy said that they should because they never had a plus size Power Ranger. Uh in the 21 years Power Rangers has been on they have had five plus size women and five plus size men as Power Ranger. All of them were quoted as saying they had to wear shape wear but were 14/16 none the less!

    Then there is Bulk and Ernie, both plus size men and main characters, Miss Applebee, the lady who took over the juice bar from Erine, the list goes on, they may not have been Power Rangers but they were still main characters! Saban is much more accepting and for body diversity then Disney was in the 7 seasons they owned Power Rangers.

    1. I wouldn;t hold my breath waiting for Disney to embrace size acceptance. They are some of the most rabid proponents of anti fat-person propaganda. Disney, and their network ABC.

      1. Oh I know! The one gal who was a size 14 in Power Rangers Dino Thunder (one of the seven seasons Disney actually did before Saban bought the show back) was forced to wear so much shape wear to make her look smaller or had to wear very over sized clothes under the guise of “Boho chic”

  9. I never had Barbie growing up (70’s and 80’s) as it did not fit with my mom’s somewhat feminist leanings. I never really wanted a Barbie anyway. Most of my friends had them and I would play Barbies at their houses, which more than satisfied any Barbie play cravings.

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