So apparently it’s big news that some people are trying to get toy companies to make a “plus size” (read: morbidly obese) Barbie doll. I haven’t heard yet if this push also includes support for a beer-bellied Ken doll. Leaving that aside, there is a bigger question looming in my mind about this push: why?
Why do so many people care what a Barbie doll looks like? After all, it’s not like the appearance of the doll affects real world attitudes and behaviors. The current Barbie doll is not overweight, but the vast majority of the women that grew up playing with it are, with over a third of them clinically obese, according to the CDC. A recent study indicates that the method used by the CDC underestimates obesity in women about 48% of the time, which allows us to extrapolate a clinical obesity rate for women of approximately 65%, and an overweight rate of approximately 85%.
Clearly, a non-obese Barbie doll doesn’t reduce the incidence of being overweight in American women. There also doesn’t seem to be any indication that a morbidly obese Barbie doll would reduce this rampant obesity. After all, it’s not like kids these days have never seen a fat lady–not when 85% of women are fat. Kids are smart enough to instinctively realize that fat people don’t look as good as fit people, they don’t need a morbidly obese Barbie to compare to another Barbie to figure it out.
But wait. What’s that I hear being yelled at me from the frothing mouths of fat women around the country? “Barbie causes eating disorders, eating disorders are evil, Barbie is evil!” Hmm… Let’s think about that argument. First off, can Barbie dolls cause eating disorders? Well, we know that the percentage of children exposed to Barbie dolls is quite high, and we know that the incidence of eating disorders is infinitesimal, so right off the bat we can determine that, at least in the vast majority of cases, Barbie dolls do not cause eating disorders. (Unless, of course, we define obesity as an eating disorder. I would argue that we should, but it is not considered such in the existing literature.)
Next up, are eating disorders (again, excluding obesity) really all that evil? It is interesting to note that in addition to being extremely rare, eating disorders generally are acute, short-term conditions with a high rate of full recovery. In fact, the most deadly of eating disorders, anorexia nervosia, kills an average of 145 people per year in the US. This is in contrast to say, the number of people killed per year by accidentally suffocating themselves with their blankets or pillows while sleeping, which is 661. That’s right, 4.5 times more people are killed by beds every year than by anorexia.
It gets even more interesting when you contrast the anorexia death rate with the obesity death rate, which is 300,000 per year. That means 2069 times as many people are killed by being fat every year than are killed by being anorexic. And yet we are told that it is anorexia that is evil.
Obesity is far more evil.
So why this push for a morbidly obese Barbie? Simply put, Barbie has become an emblem for sexiness, and every woman wants to be sexy. Some women channel this desire into an exercise and nutrition regimen that allows them to maintain a fit, trim, and desirable body. Others, too lazy to take control of their own eating and exercise habits, think that they can become sexy by redefining what sexy is. Make a morbidly obese Barbie, and all of a sudden the morbidly obese woman can tell herself that she is sexy because she looks like Barbie. Of course, this rationalization completely misses the point that a morbidly obese Barbie simply wouldn’t be sexy.