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Obviously Barbie and Ken aren’t the only source of messages about how to look, what to wear, how to be.

These messages are everywhere. So why a section on Barbie and Ken (and his cousin GI Joe)?

These toys tell us a lot about what society values about masculinity and femininity, ethnicity and sexuality...

“Barbie has become more than a toy – she is a cultural icon."

(Norton, Olds, Olive and Dank, 1996. Pg 288.)


Focussing on Barbie and Ken allows us to highlight the way these dolls and other cultural ideals (models, celebrities, centrefolds, dancers, athletes) present stereotypes of body image which can contribute to people feeling bad about themselves.


A recent Australian study found that;

‘A young woman randomly chosen from the population would have a 7% chance of being as ectomorphic as a catwalk model, a 3% chance of matching an international model, a 0.3% chance of matching a shop mannequin, a 0.1% chance of matching a “supermodel”, and no chance at all of matching Barbie!!’


Have you heard about the Barbie Liberation Organisation? They found a way to swap the voice mechanisms of the Talking Barbies with those of the GI Joes. The talking Barbies ended up saying things like ‘vengeance is mine’ while the GI Joes were saying ‘Let’s go shopping’. Imagine a day when it’s okay for GI Joe to miss the gym for a day and go shopping and for Barbie to put on her sensible shoes and get angry.


Most of us know that the advertising, beauty, fashion, diet and cosmetic surgery industries all deliver strong messages about how people should be, look and dress. However without alternative role models we are often left with the media definitions of how we should look and be.


Take a look at the magazines you are reading. Models that are air- brushed and touched up, unrealistic body images, ads that encourage underage drinking, tobacco use, violence, violence against women, plus the unbelievable promises – bigger breasts, lose fat in 14 days, six pack abs in two months, acne banished in 30 days. For more on being a critical viewer of the media see our section ‘Getting Vocal’.


It’s virtually impossible to avoid hearing and seeing these messages however we can choose to ignore them or critique them. We can try and ignore them so we can move towards developing a new outlook and we can critique them in order to remind ourselves and others of their destructive influence. Thinking about the way bodies are portrayed in these messages, what the goal of the messages are (are they trying to sell you something?), and what kind of stereotypes are implicit in them, is a useful way to begin undermining the power that they can have in our lives.


Unfortunately people around us often accept these messages and we can be faced with seemingly endless conversations about weight, food and dieting. We can choose how to respond to these conversations; we can walk away, redirect the conversation to something else, or use them as an opportunity to talk about the issues.

Some things to think about…

One study found that if GI Joe Extreme was life size, he would have larger biceps than any bodybuilder in history.
Did you know that the word ‘doll’ is derived from the Greek word ‘eiddon’ meaning idol.
If Barbie was life size she would have a waist of 16 inches and wouldn’t menstruate.