The New Barbie Looks Fat to Me.

Via Erica Leibrandt
on Apr 11, 2014
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“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

~ Henry David Thoreau

Confession: When I saw the recent elephant article about the new Barbie with average proportions, my first reaction was, “She needs to cut back on the beer and wings nights with Ken.”

It’s no surprise that I immediately went there, since this new Barbie and I share pretty much the same dimensions, and when I look at my “average proportioned” frame in the mirror, I think I look fat too.

Which begs the question, what do I see when I see the classic Barbie—the one with the 16 inch-if-she-were-a-live-girl waist?

Before I got a gander at the updated version of this iconic doll, I would have said, “It’s just Barbie. No one thinks that’s what actual women are supposed to look like.”

I would have argued that her feet are obviously too small to stand on, her neck is clearly no more stable than a Twizzler, and her long, long legs seem to be the result of nothing less than that medieval torture device, the “stretcher” which did to human bodies exactly what it sounds like it would do.

And yet, is Barbie’s original, unlikely shape the shape I always hope to see when I look at my own reflection?

I remember being at the gym once, years ago, and seeing what I thought was a girl with the perfect figure: On the tall side, very thin, with big breasts. I watched her enviously from a safe distance as she marched on the Stairmaster, her perfectly flat stomach glistening with sweat.

Later, after I’d collected my son from the kid center to meet up with some other moms at the gym pool, I saw her again. She was still pretty far away, this time in a bikini, and I felt my heart sink. I never appear in public (or in private, now that I think about it) in a swimsuit myself, and her presence, her body, in that teeny tiny bikini made me clutch my cover up around me in shame.

The fact that she obviously had a bunch of kids only made it worse—she wasn’t some young girl, she was a mom, just like me, but she still looked like that. I tried to act as if nothing was bothering me, but I could feel her there, being all thin and perfect, burning like a canker sore directly on my brain.

At some point, my son stubbed his toe on the bottom of the pool and rushed towards me wailing. I didn’t have a Band-Aid so I was forced to sweep him up in my arms and walk right past my tormentor, since she happened to be sitting next to the nearest lifeguard.

I braced myself as I approached. I felt my thighs rub against each other as I lumbered along, trying to appear nonchalant. I got to the lifeguard and asked him for help, and while he climbed down to get his first aid box, I snuck a peek at Miss Perfect.

And then I realized there was something horribly wrong with both of us.

She couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds and she was at least 5 foot 8. Her face was wan, and her eyes beneath her sun hat looked hollow. I could easily make out the silhouette of her bones directly underneath her skin, and I winced when I noticed she had bruises everywhere. Her breasts, the breasts I had coveted from 10 yards away, were obviously fake, and looked like two overgrown grapefruit hanging awkwardly from her rib cage.

Knowing me, you’d think I would be happy to discover she wasn’t the goddess I’d made her out to be, but in fact, I just felt sick.

We were both sorry creatures, feeding ourselves a steady diet of self hatred.

It strikes me now, this girl probably had the closest proportions to a Barbie that it’s possible for an actual human to have, so I’m not as immune to the insidiousness of Barbie’s message as I thought I was. Somewhere, in the not so deep recesses of my mind, I do covet classic Barbie’s ridiculous body—and I’m not the only one.

After I read the article about Average Barbie, I went online to do a little re-con on the subject of body dysmorphic disorder. I was wondering, exactly how twisted is my perception?

Evidently, very twisted.

I took self tests on at least 10 different web sites, and each one gave me the same result; I have raging BDD (body dysmorphic disorder).

And yet, I think it’s safe to say I am the rule rather than the exception:

Common questions to determine the presence and/or severity of BDD include:

(Answer yes or no)

1. I excessively worry about my physical appearance.

2. I often check my appearance in mirrors or other reflecting objects.

3. I frequently avoid mirrors or other reflecting objects.

4. I often use make up or clothing to camouflage my perceived flaws.

5. I regularly scrutinize other’s appearance for comparison.

6. I sometimes discuss my perceived flaw with others, or ask others to verify my perceived flaw.

7. I often seek reassurance from others about the appearance of my perceived flaw.

8. I often touch, pick or measure my perceived flaw.

9. I diet and/or only eat certain foods related to my perceived flaw.

What gives? Am I crazy or, based on what I imagine would be the typical answers to these questions, does our entire culture have BDD?

My sense is that it’s the latter—if that were’t the case neither Classic nor Average Barbie would exist, and neither would the firestorm of responses to both of them.

I really don’t know what the solution to our cultural sickness is. It certainly isn’t as simple as making a normal looking doll—though that helps start important conversations.

We—women and men—have a lot of looking in the mirror to do, and when we do it, I hope that we can be honest and kind and compassionate toward ourselves and everyone around us no matter what their size.

To take your own BDD test and see where you are on the spectrum, click here.


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 Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons

Photo: elephant archives


About Erica Leibrandt

Erica Leibrandt is a licensed mental health clinician, certified yoga instructor, and mother to six heathens who masquerade as innocent children. If she occasionally finds herself with a fried egg on her plate or dancing until dawn, she asks that you not judge her. Life is short, she knows the chicken that laid the egg, and we can never dance too much. Connect with Erica on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr.


11 Responses to “The New Barbie Looks Fat to Me.”

  1. Jamie Khoo says:

    I want to give you a giant hug for writing this. Thank you, thank you and thank you.
    I have never met you in person, and so I have no idea what you look like (apart from Facebook photos). And so when I read something like this, a little part of me is surprised because all I know of you is this: brilliant writer, smart, joyous, light, love, strength, power. I am surprised that "fatness/thinness" and thighs are things that you think (worry) about. I think perhaps this is true of so many of us. A friend once said to me that "you are so much more than your body" and while that is ragingly true, isn't it just so hard to really accept and live that sometimes. Thank you for writing this – it's exactly how so many of us feel xxx

  2. Erica says:

    Jamie, thank YOU! I often feel so silly for not being able to just put these feelings aside and live my beautiful life, but I do struggle with BDD and I always have. It's good to know I'm not alone. XOE

  3. Becky says:

    🙁 As somebody who used to weigh 253# at 5'6", and busted butt for a year to get down to an average (though probably still grotesquely obese to some people) size 12, was rather disheartening. I ENVY the size and shape of the average size Barbie. It kills me that I have to maintain a 1600 calorie/day regimen just to MAINTAIN my weight. And yet I have to know that there are women judging me and thinking "she needs to lay off the wings and beer!" Yeah. I wish i ate wings once in a while. I miss enjoying all the yummy foods that i used to eat with abandon. They are special "cheat day" treats that i feel intensely guilty for eating. I hate that food rules my life. I hate that something that used to be an enjoyable carefree part of my life is not anymore. And i don't use the excuse of my health as my motivator. It's always hurt when someone would judge me (and I'm sure many still do) about how my thighs rub together or how my gut (that has carried 4 children) is lumpy and jiggly. I don't want to weigh 90#. I certainly don't want to starve myself to get anywhere close to that size. I just want people to stop thinking I'm a disgusting slob who "needs to lay off the wings and beer" because I'm an average size 12.

  4. George Hung says:

    "And then I realized there was something horribly wrong with both of us … We were both sorry creatures." But Erica, you've never met the person.

  5. George Hung says:

    "And then I realized there was something horribly wrong with both of us … We were both sorry creatures." But Erica, you've never met her.

  6. Thank you for this, Erica. I see you, eye to eye. As you know, Yoga applied as a life practice and including regular asana does liberate one from this madness bc the body itself feels liberated…free, nurtured, appreciated 🙂 thank you, love, m

  7. Catherine says:

    VERY insightful! I like the way you write out your thoughts but at the same time, you are not really judging them, just observing them. Plus you had a little humor going on there, too: a sort of laughing at yourself for your thoughts. Great article!

  8. Erica says:

    Dear Becky, I am so sorry that's what you took away from this. It hurts me to think that I have hurt you. The point of the article is that my perception is grossly distorted– my assessment of my own weight and others weight is skewed because I am not in a good place myself. Good for you for losing weight and getting healthy. I am sending you love and light. XOE

  9. Erica says:

    That's true, George. It did seem very clear to me that she had an eating disorder, but since I didn't know her I can not know that for sure. There are many other reasons someone could be so thin.

  10. Becky says:

    Oh, it wasn’t you per se, Erica. Just people in general judging without knowing. I’ll admit the title started the blaze within me, but my heart went out to you as I continued reading. I bet many ladies are just as envious of your shape as you initially were of “Miss Perfect”‘s. As I am of the average size Barbie. And so on and so forth. You realized when you took the time to actually look, that maybe the grass isn’t always greener. We all just need to stop the judging, first and foremost of ourselves, and help lift up those who are down. Thank you for the love and light, and please, make a conscious and concerted effort to be as kind to yourself!

  11. Learning2bFree says:

    The way you described the "other mom" is the reason I don't even wear shorts or a tank top in summer, much less a bathing suit. I am naturally 5'1" and 80 lbs. I am 29 and have a school age child. I have been self conscious about my size for years, but am unable to gain weight due to simple genetics (If you saw my parents, you would understand). No, I have no major health issues and I do not have an eating disorder. But the level of horror and pity that I now see women displaying at seeing thin ladies makes me feel so ashamed of myself. I am aware that this is an issue I need to work on myself. However, articles like this do not help. If you feel the need to judge others without understanding them to make yourself feel better, you may benefit from working on your own perceptions before writing an article about it.