I just… cannot:
Barbie’s not just a doll.
In Galia Slayen’s hands, the iconic blond plaything has morphed into a life-size representation of what an eating disorder looks like.
Four years ago, Slayen, then a student at Lincoln High School in Portland, Ore., built what she believed to be a life-size version of the doll she played with as a child as part of the first National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
“I was at a friend’s house and her mom’s an artist so there were all these art supplies around,” Slayen told TODAY.com. “She helped with the actual proportions.”
The Barbie stands about 6 feet tall with a 39″ bust, 18″ waist and 33″ hips. She is made of wood, chicken wire and papier mache, and is dressed in a size 00 skirt that was a remnant from Slayen’s one-year bout with anorexia.
“I’m not blaming Barbie [for my illness] — she’s one small factor, an environmental factor,” Slayen said. “I’m blond and blue-eyed and I figured that was what I was supposed to look like. She was my idol. It impacted the way I looked at myself.”
The goal in creating Barbie’s likeness was to start conversation. “Talking about eating disorders is taboo to many people, and this made people talk about it,” Slayen said. “It’s a shocking image. A lot of people have seen it, and it’s started debates,” she said, particularly after she wrote about it for the Huffington Post. “Her proportions are not 100 percent correct, but her look is not invalid.”
“As a pop-cultural icon, Barbie is often used as art to express one’s own personal opinions and views,” a Mattel spokesperson said in an email. “Girls see female body images everywhere today and it’s critical that parents and caregivers provide perspective on what they are seeing. It’s important to remember that Barbie is a doll who stands 11.5 inches tall and weighs 7.25 ounces — she was never modeled on the proportions of a real person.”
Slayen introduced her Barbie to her college, Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., at its first National Eating Disorders Awareness Week this year.
At the school, there were different activities for each day of the week, including covering mirrors with pictures, facts and information on eating disorders, something Slayen had done at her high school. However, “there were just eight mirrors in my high school. There were over 300 in my college,” she said with a sigh.
One day, when my daughter caught me with my tape measure measuring for a dress, she asked me to measure her.I playfully obliged her.
My four year old’s waist is exactly eighteen inches.
Let that marinate for a minute.
(Don’t worry about the toddler. I wrapped the tape around her waist and promptly told her “Yep! Perfect!” She flexed her little toddler muscles and scurried off to go harass our dog.)
The video from Galia’s appearance on The Today Show is included below. Pay special attention to the Black woman at the 1:35 mark who says “This is what the media portrays. This is what counts as beautiful.”
It’s not lost on me that a Black woman stood next to a life-sized interpretation of a blonde haired, blue eyed toy and told a news outlet like Today that “this blonde haired, blue eyed, pale skinned, big breasted, toddler-sized-waist having woman is what you portray as beautiful, desired and appealing to me a woman of color who is the least able to ever look this way.”
I had a long conversation about this one – Black women and our relationship to Barbie. I don’t think it’s a monolithic one – I’m pretty sure it’s not, in fact – and I also think that the spectrum is wide and vast for a lot of us. Me offering up my own relationship to Barbie isn’t an arrogant attempt to say “You’re all like me!” but it is adding another side to it all.
To put it bluntly, I didn’t see Barbie in this way. Outside of simply being a toy that all the neighborhood girls came together to pool our collections and have the ultimate Barbie lifestyle party? Barbie did nothing for me. I think the fact that she was SO different from me and my everyday reality of inner-city Cleveland, that I couldn’t make the connection that Barbie was who I was to grow up emulating. Being a doctor, a pilot, a veterinarian, a wife, a super hero, a fashionista… having a vacation home, a convertible (that drives without her driving it!!!!!), a mobile home, a mansion… awesome friends (complete with a token Black friend that, funny enough, only one of us owned and none of us played with), great male friends and boyfriends? It felt like awesome overload.
While I’m certain that there’s a Kenneth-and-Mamie type correlation to be had here, I question whether or not that extended to body type. It’s obvious that many of us have internalized the “the blonde-haired-blue-eyed-pale-skinned women have what I want, so if I want what they have I should look like them” part of the dating/mating game, but does that extend to body type for us? If so, why? Why not? What does your relationship with Barbie look like, and did it affect your body image?