The Dolphin Way

Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids Without Turning Into a Tiger

Don't Ban Bossy, Ban Barbie!

Barbie may be bossing us around

I am definitely a fan of Sheryl Sandberg's message that women need to "lean in." However given all of important issues facing women today, like sexual assault (which occurs every two minutes in America); violence against women (experienced by one in four women on the planet); women's lack of access to education and childcare worldwide; and the ever-present gender pay gap, I am not convinced that the adjective "bossy" is on the top of my list of things to ban.

Theoretically, I understand how calling a little girl bossy could possibly deflate her willingness to speak up, however how much does this actually play out in reality? (Because in general, bossy people don't like being told what to do!) More importantly, I see a much bigger culprit against women's leadership flourishing amongst us, the other B-word -- Barbie.

We do not need a scientific study to prove that Barbie represents a completely unrealistic image of a women's body. And with her endless array of clothes, poddles, cars, and accessories -- she constantly feeds superficiality, consumer culture, and status anxiety. A 2006 study from the University of Sussex was called "Does Barbie Make Girls Want to Be Thin? The Effect of Experimental Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5- to 8-Year-Old Girls."

The study findings concluded that early exposure to Barbie resulted in "lower self-esteem and a greater desire for a thinner body shape than in the other exposed conditions." As a psychiatrist who specializing in women and youth, I know these factors certainly contribute to an increased risk of unhealthy weight cycling and disordered eating.

Of course, no one should judge what someone else wants to do with their own body, but I have seen far too many young girls suffer physically, mentally, and financially under the knife of plastic surgery to get the ideal "Barbie look" and later regret it. In addition, as Heidi Montag's 10 plastic surgeries at once "to look like Barbie" proves, the worst part is that the image itself is simply unattainable. This is a set up for battered self-esteem, obsessive behavior, eating disorders, and body dysmorphic disorder.

As a mom, I can see the joy my three-year-old daughter has when she plays with dolls so I am not about to throw them all out of the house. I may even consider buying her the new doll Lammily, whose body shape is based on averages of data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Lammily's creator, graphic designer Nickolay Lamm wanted a "normal Barbie" that "promotes realistic standards of beauty." This is a great start but we need to go much further if we want to raise our daughters to be equal leaders in every aspect of society. For women to lean in, step up, and be shout out leaders, we must first start with the development of a strong self-esteem and positive identity for young girls. We all know Barbie hits both these critical pillars hard. I say let's stop being bossed around by Barbie telling us how to look and act. It's Barbie who needs to be banned!

Shimi Kang, M.D., is an award-winning, Harvard-trained psychiatrist and author of The Dolphin Way.

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