The Barbie Syndrome

barbie body

© rehabs.com / dailymail.co.uk

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 Aish.com 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.

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21 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.

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    • 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.

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  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.)

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  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.

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    • 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.

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  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.

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  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.

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    • 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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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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  10. It’s been a long while since this topic was discussed here. I want to add that there is little to no peace in trying to please people who have vain values. It’s good that the article you linked to, James, tries to encourage many influences (including fathers and mothers) to be careful about messages to girls or young women. Also, it was interesting that it pointed out the pointless (in deeper terms) emphasis on “the pose.” I was at my mother’s house when she had turned on an awards show (with famous musicians and actors). A very pretty young woman walked down the red carpet and posed. Then her husband, an immensely successful and clean-cut and kind young man (classic and positive), walked up and stood with her. The shocking commentary from my mother was that she could get someone better than him. I would bet this was the old view that a light woman (even if ethnic) should avoid a black man (himself light). But it also could have been something about him not being super tall. It just never ends.

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    • I think one of our most ingrained prejudices has to do with appearance, and especially the appearance of women. When men get older, their faces have “character,” but not so of women. On the other hand, as you say, if a woman is attractive, at least traditionally, she’d expected to have an equally attractive mate. The message behind this is that women use their attractiveness as currency to get the best male available.

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      • When I was in high school, my mother wasn’t pleased that I was dating a young man (senior year) who was going into the Air Force (this after not letting me date at all for three-and-a-half of the four years). We weren’t planning on getting married, but it was more than one date to a dance; she was freaking out. Her freak-out had to be quiet and subtle* because when she had previously (years prior, like when I was ten or so and not really thinking about boys) said something determined about marrying someone for being rich, I had been shocked and vocal about it. Clearly, she couldn’t just come and speak to me and commiserate as to how much he would earn. [* She wasn’t good at her plan to be subtle, because she started changing the values that she’d wanted instilled in me — suddenly talking about birth control when that was irrelevant.]

        Now I had been raised to respect “the troops” — and, besides, I had met this peer at my Lutheran school. But it didn’t sound like money, and he probably didn’t meet her scrutinizing specifications either (which, her taste, by the way, seems strange, not to mention out of sync with the type of person my dad is). So she started manipulating things behind the scenes. (As it turns out, manipulation was not new to her. But I was young and naive… and a respectful daughter — quite the sitting duck.) I’d had no intention of being married until after college, but she began a (hidden) campaign of getting what she wanted (out of fear of what she was imagining ahead). I’ve been the one to live with the consequences that I never would have seen coming. But she oddly takes credit for me living out my values the best I could under the circumstances.

        [She pretty much harassed me consistently while I was raising my children, that I should go back to school, maybe get divorced, certainly not home educate my children. On and on. Then, after my children were grown and I did decide to go back to school, she derided my interest. During a time I was separated, she went on and on that I should get braces, because one tooth wasn’t perfectly straight. She and I recently went to discuss financial matters, after my dad died, with someone from whom my dad had bought a policy; said man didn’t follow through on what we were there for and did try to digitally sign my name to something I wasn’t choosing. She brushed this off as his being flustered because he was so attracted to me. But supposedly men are the rational ones to be looked up to even while making excuses, that he is a man. It’s nuts.]

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  11. When you think back to times before feminism, it’s understandable I guess that women might behave that way. And even after feminists made headway (such as obtaining voting for women), there would be continuing and then might be lingering habits of destructive female behavior (based in part on the limits of what was allowed by male behavior and law). You weren’t going to have any say-so in your life, but maybe you could be a little bit comfortable (if you chose and flirted “well” or your parent[s] imposed “well” — no matter how that really turned out). Of course, I wasn’t raised to be a feminist, in name, but was shown that a good education is important (I thought anyway — until suddenly that wasn’t in view*). I have since realised that such a point of view (sticking to the idea of education being valuable) is feminist (no matter how fervently many people say it isn’t). Anti-feminism is holding to the means of someone needing to pull strings; the ends (in some self-important individual’s eyes) justifies whatever it takes to control someone else’s life. In my view, feminism includes valuing the work done by a mother and by a wife (not the domestic meddling of a woman who gets her sense of identity from her paid work while denying she’s a feminist because, she says, feminists are crazy).

    [*My high school education was as good or better than some college educational endeavors, though. And I do have two years of college as well. My point is the focus of parents, a mother getting derailed because she was never paying attention to higher values in the first place despite pretenses.]

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