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October 15, 2013

BEAM: It’s a Barbie world

— Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or so the saying goes. An Irish lass by the name of Margaret Wolfe Hungerford coined the familiar idiom in her 1878 book, “Molly Bawn.”

Marge, though, lived in a time before media began carrying carefully selected images across the globe. Now, every year, the average child views 40,000 TV ads, and that’s not counting the promotions seen online or in magazines.

One hundred years ago, during Hungerford’s life, maybe attractiveness could be more subjective; but nowadays, “beauty is in the eye of the marketing exec” has a much more accurate ring to it.

Who do our kids see on these advertisements? Rarely people who look like the average mom or dad. Commonly at 5-feet 10-inches tall and measuring on the scales at around 115 pounds, most female models now weigh 23 percent less than the everyday woman. In fact, only 5 percent of Americans have a “model’s body,” and that’s before Photoshopping.

While 14 is actually the median size of most women, incomprehensibly some in the modeling business consider those above a size 6 to be a plus-sized gal.

Young girls notice the message media is sending. How could they not? According to the National Eating Disorders Association, between 40 percent and 60 percent of children ages 6 through 12 are worried about their weight.

Even more alarming, a 2012 study released by the Keep it Real Campaign indicated 80 percent of 10-year-old girls have dieted once in their lives. The same data also showed 53 percent of 13-year-old girls surveyed had issues with how their bodies looked. At age 17, the number rises to 78 percent.

Women, for the most part, just aren’t comfortable in their own bodies.

It can be easy to ignore this standardization of unrealistic beauty, especially when it comes to our children. Take for example, my 7-year-old daughter. The kid loves Barbies. Visit her room and you’ll see an impressive array of the figures strewn about.

Astronaut Barbie teaches President Barbie in a makeshift classroom. Zookeeper Barbie prepares a meal for her visiting paleontologist twin.

Judging by the wide range of career opportunities, Barbs can be anything, right? Wrong.

The popular toy, which accounts for 40 percent of all doll sales, can’t be overweight. Heck, the blonde bombshell can’t even be average.

Several graphs released by rehabs.com and documented by the UK’s Daily Mail show how out-of-touch with reality the popular doll really is. If Barbie were an actual human, she’d be forced to crawl like a dog due to her insane measurements. Children’s size 3 feet and 6-inch ankles don’t cut it when you’re close to 6 feet tall.

A girl, of course, must use her head in all these demanding careers. Barbie has that covered. Designers created the plaything’s noggin to be 2 inches bigger than most. Sitting atop a neck that’s double in length and half as thin as the average woman, Barbie’s enlarged head in the real world would dangle like a bobble head.

Good luck excavating dinosaur bones, or even taking a breath, with that cranium, my friend.  

Oh yeah, and then there’s her teeny, tiny size. Only half a liver and a portion of an intestine would fit in the Mattel creation’s 16-inch waist. You gotta wonder if her lack of a stomach is the reason the old gal’s weight would be considered anorexic by most medical criteria.

Given this constant barrage of what a woman is expected to look like, should it have been a surprise when my little girl told me I needed to lose weight last week? No, but it still took me back. No one likes to be told they’re overweight, especially by a sweet, little first grader.

Alarmed and a tad bit peeved, I asked why she thought as such.

“Because you said it,” she replied.

That’s where all those statistics go out the door.

Sons and daughters learn what they see, and my children, I guess, have been seeing a lot in our house. Yes, I throw outfits, sometimes five at a time, into the corner because they “make me look huge.” It’s not uncommon for me to skip lunch so I can fit into a fancy dress.

And when my daughter asks to put on makeup, I explain that her face is too beautiful to hide, while I continue to smudge a coral blush on hidden cheek bones, looking into the mirror with a cringe.

By the way, guess who bought all those Barbies?

Media does play a part in how our children perceive their bodies, as it certainly does for mothers as well. In the end, though, the responsibility lies with the parent to be a good example and not reinforce these messages.

Unlike the ladies plastered on the cover of Vogue, everyone can be a role model. Are you ready for your close-up?  

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at adbeam47@aol.com

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