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Blaming Barbie: Raising Daughters with Self-Esteem

March 23, 2014 | by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff

Is average beautiful?

Are Barbie dolls harmful to a girl’s self-image?

Many have criticized Barbie for her super thin, impossible to achieve figure that has had a negative effect on the way girls see their own bodies. Some have even connected Barbie dolls with eating disorders and girls’ poor body image.

Meet the Lammily Doll. Dreamed up by 25 year old Pittsburgh artist Nickolay Lamm, this doll is being described as the Anti-Barbie. Lamm first posted his renditions of what Barbie would look like if she had an average 19-year-old’s body. The difference between the two figures was eye-opening and his post went viral. After getting tons of inquiries, Lamm decided to produce the more realistically proportioned doll. He has already raised more than $400,000 in 10 days, exceeding his goals. Lamm describes himself as “a normal dude with a laptop who thinks we can use another option.”

Lamm says that he had not thought about this issue until one day when he looked at Barbie and “thought it looked weird. I can sometimes feel insecure; it’s hard for me to imagine what women have to go through. They’re subjected to much higher beauty standards than men.”

The motto of this new doll is “Average is Beautiful.”

As much as I would like to believe that we are all in agreement when it comes to the awful pressure girls and women face with keeping up their body image, I do wonder how many parents out there would find it easy to say “my daughter is average and average is beautiful.” We have somehow been conditioned to feel that our child must be special, amazing or awesome. And when it comes to our girls, there is an increasing focus on how they look and their physical shape being tied to this feeling of special. Who would proudly say “my daughter looks average”?

How can we parents help our daughters discover healthy self-esteem in this materialistic society that constantly stresses perfect beauty and size?

Your Daughter’s Self Worth

We are surrounded by media and fashion magazines that are obsessed with women’s looks. Magazines track the weight of celebrities. Ads are constantly telling us that we can look better if we would only use this new product. Airbrushing and Photoshop create distorted images that our girls aspire to become. And too often, movies, videos, reality TV shows, and advertisements all portray women and girls in a demeaning manner. Body posture, exposed clothing and facial expressions do not mirror a woman who lives with self-dignity and self-worth. Our girls have come to define beauty with impossible body measurements. Often they end up feeling that that they just don’t measure up. Disregarding the cost to one’s self-image, the heart and soul that lie within become easily ignored. The emphasis on the perfect pose creates a culture where it is hard to see beyond one’s clothing or figure to realize the intrinsic value of a human being.

Too many feel that their self-esteem is connected to their bodies; they don’t see the treasure that lies within.

While gauging themselves against these impossible standards, our girls have neglected to learn the meaning of true self-worth. Too many feel that their self-esteem is connected to their bodies; they don’t see the treasure that lies within. Self–esteem comes when we value our internal beauty. It’s not based on the size of our waist or how others think we look. One of the greatest life lessons we can teach our daughters is that their self-worth is based on the unique role they play in this universe of ours. Looks can come and go. Attractiveness is based on the perceptions of others and has nothing to do with greatness of character or effort to accomplish and create goodness. Instead of focusing on fashion and figures, we must teach our daughters to ask themselves these questions: What have I done to make a difference in this world? What is my mission? How have I brought love to the people in my life? What is my special fingerprint that will one day become my personal legacy? This is about the identity of our young girls, our tweens and teens knowing who they are beyond their outward appearance.

No one can ever negate the acts of kindness you have accomplished, the efforts you have exerted, or the feeling of success after picking yourself up and trying once again. Sadly, we find weekly stories about celebrities and society women who seem to have had it all – fashion, beauty, gorgeous homes, and an incredible social life – yet a void remains and they end up destroying their lives. (Just think of the tragic end to the life of beautiful L’Wren Scott). Something is missing. It is the inherent belief that “I count. I am vital. I am here for a higher purpose.” This is the definition of true self-worth.

Girls who possess high self-esteem are bold and fearless in their beliefs. They are not afraid to express themselves or to side with those who are not the ‘it girls’. They possess a serene confidence, a spirit that goes beyond a name brand jacket or pair of expensive boots. Independent of other people’s perceptions, girls with high self-esteem feel secure. These girls see themselves as a positive force in this world, and no celebrity or media message can strip their energy away.


As girls grow, their sense of self-esteem changes and often declines. Buckling under society’s pressure can bring our daughters to see themselves in an unhealthy light. Among 5-12th grade girls, 59% surveyed were unhappy with their body shape. 47% in the same survey admitted that they wanted to lose weight because of magazine photos. By age 15, girls are twice as likely as boys to become depressed. Too many children grow into adulthood having suffered from anorexia, bulimia and binging-sometimes never conquering their eating disorder. Yo-yo dieting becomes a way of life.

Can a Barbie doll be held partially responsible?

According to Mattel’s spokeswoman, Kim Culmone, Barbie is not the problem. She feels that the influence on these issues of body image comes from “peers, moms, parents and social circles.”

While psychologist have differing views when it comes to the negative impact toys can have on developing children, we can certainly decide to take a stand with our kids and try to make sure that we are giving them a positive message about their self–worth. Mothers especially have tremendous influence on a daughter’s body image. When a mother looks at her daughter with a judgmental eye or comments on weight and size-even complaining about her own figure, she is becoming part of the problem.

What We Can Do

  1. Be a positive role model. Try not to be obsessed with talk about fashion, dieting, and criticizing your own body. Remember that your daughter is listening to your words and sees the world through your eyes. Show your child that you are happy with who you are.
  2. Don’t nag about the pounds. If you have a concern about your daughter’s (or son’s weight) stress the importance of health and fitness instead. Get your family moving. Be active in a fun way. Play a sport, go bike riding, take up an active hobby together instead of singling out one child to go do exercise that feels like a punishment. Keep healthy foods and snacks around.
  3. Watch your praise. Do you praise your daughter solely for her looks? Have you forgotten to focus on her character and efforts? This includes dads too! Girls need fathers who offer emotional support and who are present as a positive voice in their lives.

Most importantly, encourage your daughter to see the great power she has to accomplish good in this world. Help her feel vital. Discover the power of passion for a cause. Teach her, as Judaism so wisely teaches us, that the real beauty of a woman lies deep within. We walk with dignity. We are called the ‘daughters of the King’ and our ever day reflects the majesty of our soul.

True beauty cannot be defined by a doll or a perfect dress size. It is the wonder of recognizing who we are and the joy of finally realizing that we are, indeed, each beautiful, created in the image of God.

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