The Barbie Syndrome

barbie body

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She was forced to walk on all fours thanks to her oversized head, it being two inches larger than it was before the surgery. To make matters worse, her head was sitting on a neck twice as long and six inches thinner than the one she had before.

“Dr. Brennan, I can’t lift my head.” Sophia’s dream of being “Barbie beautiful” had turned into a surreal nightmare.

“We discussed all this, Sophia, and your head is the least of your worries. Your waist is only 16 inches, four inches thinner than your head. We had to greatly reduce the size of your liver and intestines to accommodate it.”

Brennan’s dismay for what Sophia had asked his team to do for her was palatable. He could hardly believe that women in the mid-21st century still succumbed to the influence of the dolls they played with in childhood. And yet, he was here to treat this epidemic sweeping through the current generation of older teens and young twenties women.

“Won’t I die?”

“That’s a distinct possibility.”

Sophia gave up her struggle against gravity and let her body, dressed only in a white bikini, slump to the floor.

“Doctor, I thought you said this would work, that I’d have Barbie’s body.” Her words were muffled since half her face was pressed onto formica tiles.

“You do, but what led you to believe such a body would be practical in the real world?”

“I give up, Doctor. Please turn off the machine now.”

Dr. Brennan flipped several switches on the console he was standing behind and the room converted back to the plain holographic chamber it had been before the session began.

Sophia hurriedly removed the simulation suit and virtual reality helmet. “I never want to do that again.”

She stood. It was her old body, 20 inch head, 15 inch neck, 35 inch waist, 40 inch hips, the body she thought was so bulky and ugly now felt like heaven compared to the debilitating experience of being “Barbie-ized”.

“I’m sorry, Doctor. I shouldn’t have snapped at you. You only gave me what I asked for.” Sophia put her robe back on. She was suddenly aware of how cold the holochamber was.

“It’s alright, Sophia. Almost everyone experiences shock and anger at this stage of their therapy. Now that you have a more realistic idea of how a real person’s body works, I believe your therapist will be able to help you.”

“Thanks. I guess you think I’m some kind of idiot.”

“Not at all, Sophia. You’re just one of the many young women who suffer from an eating and body image disorder. I’m here to help. We’re all here to help. Let me escort you back to your room. Your next counseling session with Dr. Price is in half an hour.”

I got the idea for this wee story from an article I read at called Blaming Barbie: Raising Daughters with Self-Esteem by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff. Then, in researching what Barbie’s bodily proportions would be if she were life-sized, I found Bones so frail it would be impossible to walk and room for only half a liver: Shocking research reveals what life would be like if a REAL woman had Barbie’s body at The Daily Mail.

At first, I thought of writing Sophia’s story as if she’d had the surgery, but then I realized that not only would it kill her, but medical ethics would prevent any surgical team from performing such a procedure. The holographic chamber and simulation suit seemed more reasonable in treating someone with eating and body image disorders.

Dolls are fun to play with, but they aren’t role models for real people.


16 thoughts on “The Barbie Syndrome

  1. I really loved this little story. If only we had a similar technology to show both men and women that they really can be comfortable in their own bodies, that the cookie cutter “perfect” is never what they expect it to be.


    • It may be possible someday soon to do just that with virtual reality and holographic technology. I don’t know that every little girl who’s ever played with a Barbie doll grew up to have unrealistic expectations for her own body, but for those who have, we need to express compassion.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice job transitioning from it seeming real (though fictively) to the experience being virtual (and still fictive). Interesting topic; hadn’t seen the doll proportions “translated” before. I think the doll was roughly based on a real particular person (who didn’t have those proportions): meaning Playboy expectations.

    I had a different type of little human-like dolls, more realistic as well as smaller overall. They were more compatible in scale with my greater interest — hand-making houses, new ones from time to time, out of cardboard. I was interested in interior design and architecture. (I don’t know if “Dawn” dolls are still out there.)


  3. It is a very well written story, James…nice transitions, as Marleen said.

    It is certainly odd to see the differences between what is a naturally shaped body as opposed to a doll that derives from the Modernist art style…all stretched out and elongated. And it does affect the idea of beauty. I myself do not admire El Greco, but there are those that are fixated on the style.

    I recall in college seeing the first truly anorexic person I was to come across at a Frat party…she was beautiful in a strange way, no more than 19, and with arms that stuck out like tooth picks from her expensively attired short sleeve jacket. The picture has always stuck in my head…strange, wrong, and yet lovely in a way. Yet I doubt she lived long, nor if she did, that she looked well after another decade of no nutrients. And this is what the doll teaches, and the image is permanent…I can still see it. I see many women as beautiful, of all differing types, but that ‘alien’ doll…still fascinating visually.


    • Many years ago I had a private practice as a family therapist. I went to a group orientation at an inpatient psychiatric facility in Southern California basically looking for a referral base.

      One of the speakers was the head of their eating disorders group. She looked perfect. Every hair in place, impeccably dressed, and very beautiful. One of the women therapists in the audience said that she couldn’t possibly suffer from an eating disorder. In that instant, I knew she was wrong. This was a woman who absolutely had to have total control of her physical appearance. A few seconds later, she told the audience what I already knew. She was a recovering anorexic.

      There’s a way back for these women, but it isn’t easy, and I suspect, it never quite leaves you.


  4. I never had an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia, but with my mother I probably would have had I ever had difficulty with my weight. Pretty much no matter what I ate, I always weighed the same. One summer, I gained about five pounds, I’m pretty sure because I was depressed (also related to my mother, but she wasn’t saying anything about my wieght). And then it was gone (not due to any change in my mother). But now that I’m over fifty, I don’t weight what I did from say fifteen to forty-five. [Oh, there was a span of about a year when I was forty or so that I lost weight due to distressing circumstances. That passed too, as far as the weight loss.]

    So now she almost can’t say anything but something related to how much I weigh, which I find extremely rude and impertinent. I won’t be going to see her again anytime soon if ever. It was interesting last time to be at a table with my mom saying after dinner something about her wondering if I exercise at all, to which I said something snarky about exercising with a Jane Fonda video (which I do because it’s good exercise, not to be snarky), and the person sitting next to me (who has never fit the mold and is married into the family) saying, to remind me of the fact I do have family, “Lifting the fork or glass to the mouth is enough exercise.” We laughed.


  5. When I was a kid, my mother was one of those people intent on a child finishing their plate. She also, for a reason I don’t know, somehow related eating “well” or kind of a lot with being good. I mention this because I’ve heard of a movie or television drama series with the word good in the title (the good girl or something, but I haven’t seen it) and related to an eating disorder. I also remember going to a nice Chinese restaurant every couple months or so (at the Chinese family business of one of my mom’s students) with my parents (when I was a child) and all of us stuffing ourselves with a family-style dinner. My dad still stuffs himself in situations like that, or at a buffet.

    It dawned on me one day, like maybe when I was seventeen or so, that I didn’t ever have to eat so much that my stomach hurt. So I quit. There is an unpleasant memory of a day — had to be before third grade — my mom had invited a number of girls to our house for lunch and to go to a movie. One of my parents had filled my plate, and I had eaten as much as I could. But I was very full. So I just couldn’t eat any more. The result was I didn’t get to go to the movie. She took everyone else. My dad thought this didn’t make sense, so he and I sat on the front porch for a little while. He said that she might come back to get me. No, that didn’t happen.


    • Yeah, I remember the speeches about people starving in China so I’d better clean my plate.

      My folks still enjoy those “all you can eat” places such as The Golden Corral (yuk).

      My seven-year-old grandson is a picky eater, but we try to make sure he eats some salad and the like. However, when he says he’s full, then he’s full. Leftovers are good.


  6. Actually, one time one of my sons was alone with my parents when they went out to eat. He was a “good kid” and ate a ton of food (not very hard to do as it was one of our/his favorite places)… finished it all. Then the waitress thought she was being nice and brought him a free ice cream. He ate that too. Walking to the car, he threw up in the parking lot. (This is a bit of a curiosity, because I never threw up.) He tells this story as a funny memory.


  7. To be properly mannered, one should take dainty portions, eat lightly, and leave a tiny portion of your food behind, to give the impression that, delicate you was stuffed to the brim because it was soooo delicious…so the cook, or hostess, should not be offended, and you also supposedly keep your small waistline. Then, you could go home, and have a nice sandwich in decent privacy.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Nah, even now, in some circles! The Japanese do so as a matter of self discipline…to not stuff themselves…and in business, it is valuable to not be seen as greedy…even if you are.


  9. That same son is reading an autobiography, of Ghandi. He says it’s slow-going, but one thing he’s gotten out of it is that Ghandi starved himself before the hunger strikes because he was a vegetarian and afraid to ask people for more food when in cultural settings where there was significant dependence on meat or even, finally, eggs.


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