Friday, September 21, 2012

Barbie's Shape.

Every once and a while a piece is written about Barbie and her physical shape, often focusing on the psychological damage that her (im)perfect body causes to the young girls who play with her.
There are so many printed articles in newspapers over time, and even more now on the internet that I will not link to any. They often quote things like her actual measurements were she full size, her history, some even mention the somewhat muddy past she has in being connected to an adult novelty. Other mention how revolutionary she was in a time where the only dolls marketed we baby dolls.

Baloney I say.

Do you know why Barbie (and other fashion dolls on the market) has such a small waist?
Proportion and scale. Fabric doesn't scale down that much. once the clothes are around that tiny waist, she begins to look more "normal" because the seams around the waist add bulk.

Take this picture of my 2 Tonner dolls. I don't actually own any Barbies. On the left is Red White and You! undressed, on the right is Basic Wicked Witch of the West in full 1860's wardrobe. Both have the same body mold.
While the undressed doll has a very small waist. the dressed doll has a much larger visual waist size.
The 1860's wardrobe has several layers going over the waist: Chemise, Drawers, Corset, Hoopskirt, Petticoat, Corset Cover and finally the outer garments you see here consisting of Sheer blouse, Skirt and Jacket.

Now this outfit has a lot of layers going around the waist. such is the way with period garments. Barbie is a modern doll. But her proportions are not new. Take a look at this early 18th century doll from the V&A

Doll | V&A Search the Collections Museum number MISC.264-1978

Notice this doll has an even smaller waist? with a much larger hipspring this is also a style characteristic of  fashion of the time.
Just like today Fashion dolls were more than play things. Some of the onese now in museums may neer have been played with at all, which is why they survived to today.

So the next time you see one of those articles floating around, take a minuet to think about it,  and if you are up to the challenge, try sewing a set of clothes for Barbie yourself, see how they affect her shape.


  1. This is fascinating, and makes perfect sense. I'd always thought all the fuss about Barbie's proportions seemed a bit overblown, because when she's dressed, she just doesn't look all that freakish. Just "idealized." And aren't ALL dolls idealized to some degree? Just like models.

  2. Hmm, I never thought about her shape as a kid, but I did find it odd that she didn't have any nipples. I borrowed my Mum's red nail polish and did something about that... :)