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Cohen: ‘Curvy’ Barbie won’t change the body image narrative

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Cohen: ‘Curvy’ Barbie won’t change the body image narrative

Julia Cohen, Columnist

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Ever since I was little girl I wanted to be just like Barbie. Unlike most women, that desire hasn’t faded since I’ve come to college. I have always loved her long blonde hair, natural affinity for high heels and, of course, her body. Gallons of peroxide and multiple Sunday mornings spent walking around in heels in pajamas helped me get the first two. However, my genetics and love of carbs kept me from getting the last. When Mattel announced its new, curvy Barbie (as well as her other new versions), I couldn’t help but be happy that for the first time, instead of me trying to look like Barbie, Barbie was trying to look like me.

Although I think this is an awesome step to teaching girls to feel beautiful no matter what their body type is, I also think we’re putting a little too much emphasis on a doll and not enough on ourselves. From the bashing of fashion magazines to the constant “love yourself” campaigns on social media, we’re focused so much on what the media is teaching girls about their bodies that we’ve forgotten about what we teach them about body image on a day-to-day basis. Until we combine the focus on pop culture with a focus on our own thoughts and actions, girls will continue to be stuck in the same cycle of self-hatred and insecurity.

I remember growing up and watching both my peers and the adults around me critiquing their bodies. “Ugh, I’m so fat,” was a common phrase I grew up hearing from women of all shapes and sizes, from two to 22. The thing is, I didn’t believe there was anything wrong with them. So when the women in my life told me I was beautiful, I couldn’t help but wonder: If they had such warped visions of themselves, how did I know if they had warped visions of me as well? Even if I was surrounded by magazine articles telling me to love myself, it could only do so much. Your world is first and foremost made up of the people immediately around you. Influences from the media only add to it. I’m not saying we shouldn’t criticize pop culture, but we cannot continue to use it as a scapegoat for our own personal insecurities. It’s a lot easier to call out other forces for the problems in the world instead of looking at how we might be fueling them.

I understand it is hard to filter what you’re saying, especially when that is how you really feel at that moment. But we have to moderate our own thoughts and words because we never know who’s listening. Whether it’s your best friend or a little girl walking to school, they’re picking up on what we’re saying about ourselves.

There is always the rationalization that the media is lying, that the ideals we see in our dolls and in our billboards aren’t true. For the women around you, however, you don’t have that rationalization. If we’re taught not to trust the media’s expectations, then we turn to the expectations and examples of the women in our lives. Even if I’m proud that Barbie finally looks like me, I’ve always understood that she’s only Barbie. I know the same thing about airbrushed magazine covers and tanned and toned Victoria’s Secret models: They’re only fantasies.

But the women who surround us are so much more than that. Our mothers, sisters, aunts, teachers, friends — they’re the people who are really and truly shaping us. They’re the people who we learn our most important lessons from. Until we stop bashing our bodies instead of worrying that pop culture is bashing them, it won’t matter if Barbie has realistic curves or a deathly thin waist. She is not the main source of guidance and growth for girls. It is the women we see every day who are the ones who will really change the narratives about body image.
Julia Cohen is a SESP sophomore. She can be reached at If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.