India Barbie Dolls Send Girls Wrong Message About Race and Body Image

Admittedly, I have never been a huge Barbie fan. Though I don’t like to self-describe my younger self as a “Tom-boy,” I guess I demonstrated my position when for my sixth birthday I told friends “If you get me a Barbie, I will puke.” 

My mother proudly retells that story and the story of my sister who had “Rock and Roll Barbie” and Rock and Roll Barbie’s friend would take care of the kids, when she went to play rock concerts (in the imaginary world of my sister). 

But the real question is, do toys add to a body image crisis? Perhaps. But the greater culprit is the portrayal of women in the mainstream media. 

With the real proportions of Barbie there is and has always been a concern that toys in some way fuel or impact the body image crisis. Other absurdly strange looking dolls have hit the stores such as the La Dee Da dolls who are described as taking “it to whole new level with their toothpick like arms and legs. Even consumer product reviews of the La Dee Da line say that the dolls themselves are a little too fragile and breakable.”

Furthermore, Barbie and the La Dee Da dolls have both attempted and failed to portray some kind of racial and ethnic diversity. India Barbie doll comes complete with a passport and a monkey. Obviously, every woman in India carries around a monkey on her arm and has a passport! And La Dee Da dolls have “Bollywood Bright.” As MissRepresentation.org's Margarita Diaz says, “What better way to broaden a little girl’s horizons than to dress up her doll in a stereotyped, hyper-sexualized version of a cultural costume?”

What Barbie would look like if she were a real woman is less important to me than what the media portrays about what women should look like. As the Miss Representation documentary shows, the United States has a long way to go to portray women favorably in the media, especially women in positions of power.

Have toys fueled the body image crisis? Perhaps not the toys alone, but the media, advertising and marketing have not helped. Hopefully, parents and smart young girls like Riley, can help see through media and advertising that tricks young children into choosing either princesses or superheroes as Riley describes in her ever so mature and candid moment in a toy store aisle.

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Lakshmi Sarah

Born and raised in California, Lakshmi is an educator and journalist. With roots in Kochi, Prague and San Francisco she divides her time between the places she feels at home. Over the past few years, Lakshmi has worked with newspapers and magazines from Gaborone, Botswana to Los Angeles, California. Lakshmi has several years of experience working with the National Student Leadership Conference. In 2009 and 2010 she directed the NSLC program on Journalism & Mass Communication at American University in Washington, DC. She is a graduate of Pitzer College in California where she studied Global Communications and Studio Arts. She is currently pursuing her Master's in Journalism, Media and Gobalization in Aarhus, Denmark.

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