No, Barbies don't affect little girls' body image. Not at all.
Last month was the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General's report that proved a link between smoking and lung cancer. It took another 34 years after that announcement for any tobacco executive to publicly acknowledge the link. A similar denial is currently taking place at the Mattel corporation, makers of Barbie, where executives fail to acknowledge that Barbie is incredibly detrimental for girls' body image.
In an interview with Fast Co.Design, Kim Culmone, vice president of design for Barbie, told reporter Mark Wilson, "Barbie’s body was never designed to be realistic," and that Barbie's primary function is to be dressed and undressed. In essence, that the clothes are more important than the doll, and that Barbie is a mannequin rather than a model.
When asked if she would ever design a Barbie with realistic proportions, Culmone said, "there isn’t an objective to change the proportion of Barbie currently." She did not acknowledge that Barbie negatively influences girls' body image, which a 2006 University of Sussex study confirmed. Culmone also said that Barbie is a 55-year-old brand with heritage to uphold.
Apparently, Mattel believes that the display of fabrics is more important than girls developing eating disorders and body image problems, and that the only reason not to change that belief is because it's what they've always believed. "Heritage" and "tradition" are weak, reactionary justifications that are always trotted out when perpetual bad behavior is confronted. Barbie, as it currently exists, is harmful for girls, and its creators refuse to do anything about it or even acknowledge the issue. Self esteem, unlike plastic vinyl dolls, is not something you can simply dress up.
Image via Flickr.