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Life Lessons from Barbie

Did you know Mattel wanted to sell more Barbie clothing than dolls? That's why her proportions were so wild—the clothes make her look human!

Barbie takes a lot of flak.

Despite over 130 successful and often lucrative careers and their trappings (numerous homes, vehicles, even pets), many long-term friendships, and a fabulous sense of style, our Babs has come up against a veritable backlash of loudmouthed naysayers who believe she has no redeeming or positive qualities.

But I am just as loudmouthed as the naysayers and I am here to tell everyone to look a little further... scratch the surface of Barbie's smooth plastic parts, if you will... go beyond the superficial and take note of what she can teach us. Go ahead, remove that chip from your shoulder and listen up!

Barbie may have strange proportions, but she is not the only one...

Barbie may have strange proportions, but she is not the only one...

Botticelli's Venus also had an outlandishly proportioned body... an elongated neck and torso with freakishly long feet.

Botticelli's Venus also had an outlandishly proportioned body... an elongated neck and torso with freakishly long feet.

Bild Lilli (Pre-Barbie)

Bild Lilli was basically a Barbie prototype.

Bild Lilli was basically a Barbie prototype.

Ruth Handler did not invent adult-shaped dolls. On a family vacation to Germany she discovered Bild Lilli in doll form. Lilli was the titular character of a popular comic strip of the Bild-Zeitung paper… a sculpted, pneumatic, and overtly sexy character who got into all kinds of scrapes with her numerous men friends and had a cheeky one-liner for every situation.


Before we begin our lessons, let’s avail ourselves of the background of our lady in question.

Springing forth into the world in 1959 from Mattel’s molds like Venus emerging from her scallop shell (fully grown and just as proportionally improbable), Barbie was originally met with disinterest and jibes from buyers at the New York Toy Fair.

No one (the buyers were men) was sold on the doll’s outrageous proportions -- which was exaggerated in order to ensure the high-quality clothes would appear correspondingly elegant to the fashions of the day.

In fact, Ruth Handler’s vision was to sell not the dolls themselves as much as the interchangeable clothing and accessories. But half the buyers did not even leave with a sample doll. That left children to make or break Barbie’s success. Would they enjoy playing with the curvy cutie?

Barbie herself was not nearly so explicit in her sex appeal as Bild Lilli, Handler's dream doll. She toned down the makeup and removed the molded-on stilettos (albeit keeping her highly arched foot) and instead of dressing her in floozy-like costumes, chose to portray Barbie as the demure girl next door.

We don’t need a sociologist to figure out what happened...

Life Lessons from Barbie

Everyone has something to learn from dolls like Barbie, so here goes...

Look What Barbie Can Teach Us!

Read on for examples about how Barbie teaches us these important life lessons.

Life Lessons from Barbie, in a Nutshell

If you smile, everyone else around you will smile too.

Looks aren't everything, but they can help.

You don’t need parents present in order to be successful.

The right shade of pink flatters every skin tone.

Practice good posture and keep your joints intact.

Don't be a hoarder.

Never cut your own hair.

Find your own personal style.

Spread the Joy

Harvard Medical School and the University of California found that the happiness of an immediate social contact increases an individual's chances of becoming happy by 15%, a second-degree contact (i.e a friend's spouse) increases the probability of becoming happy by 10%, and even a third-degree contact’s chance of happiness can be increased by 6%!

If you smile, everyone else around you will smile too.

It’s true that Barbie’s friends come with a smile direct from the factory… although in real life, it wouldn’t even matter.

Did you know that smiling (even a fake smile!) improves your mood1 – and your happiness can influence that of others2? So take the chance to bestow the people around you with that confident smile whenever you can. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

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Looks aren’t everything, but they can help.

Research has found that attractive people will earn about $240,000 more over their lifetime than unattractive people (average-looking people will earn about $140,000 more over their lifetimes).3

To me, this translates as:

Use the resources you have. If you are good-looking, you have a responsibility to your family to play it up to allow your family to live as comfortably as possible. (Not as nice-looking? Avoid face time and go into radio.)

Barbie's first job was modeling, and she continues to simply provide for her family. There's no doubt that this practice is discriminatory. But stop blaming it on an inanimate object. It’s human nature that needs to be reprimanded.

(And by the way, there’s nothing morally wrong with being nice to look at.)

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

You don’t need parents present in order to be successful.

(And thank goodness Barbie is helping out! Someone needs to provide for the family... as her parents obviously aren't.)

Have you ever seen Barbie’s parents? No, you have not. They have names (Margaret and George Roberts) but no one has ever seen these mystery figures. I don’t know if her “parents” went on a permanent vacation or what, but Barbie as the eldest child seems to have to care for the multitudes of siblings ever springing forth from their presumably plastic loins (at last count, six: Kelly/Chelsea, Krissy, Jazzie, Skipper, Stacie/Tutti, and Todd).

But did that ever stop Barbie from achieving her dreams? No, again. She smiled bravely and set about becoming everything from as astronaut (in 1965, 1985, and 1994, finally hitting Mars in 2013!) to a zoologist.

Pick a pink! I bet you can find your perfect shade in there.

Pick a pink! I bet you can find your perfect shade in there.

The right shade of pink flatters every skin tone.

Everyone can wear it. You just need to choose the right color!

For example, paler skin tones can easily wear anything in the lighter range of pinks while most darker skin colors can usually benefit from deeper tones. Medium skins can take warmer to hot pinks although the palest pastel will not usually work well with their skin.

What's the one pink that everyone can wear? Ballet pink, a pale-ish peachy pink.

And the one pink that doesn’t look good on anyone? That's easy! It's penicillin pink.

Did someone say pink... Corvette?

Did someone say pink... Corvette?

Practicing Good Posture is Not Just for Barbie!

Practice good posture and keep your joints intact.

The original Barbie did not even have a twisting waist, so she always stood perfectly erect, which is a good thing to remember.

By practicing good posture, you will appear taller, slimmer, and look and feel more confident. You will breathe better and your back will age more healthfully as you strengthen the muscles in your core. And you can even reduce neck pain!

Standing straight also assists to limit your bones from being overtaxed – it helps avoid them from rubbing against each other and increasing the risk of arthritis.

Remember to stretch throughout the day… roll your shoulders back as much as possible... and as for any body parts you plan to use in the future, stretch those at least once daily as well. Because if you do not care for your joints, one day they will not bend at all... and you do not want that!

OMG! What happened? Barbie needs an intervention at the Hoarder Dream House!

OMG! What happened? Barbie needs an intervention at the Hoarder Dream House!

Don’t be a hoarder.

You’ve seen that show… you know the one, where the residents struggle to walk through their own home due to the layers upon layers of items that has built up over a period of years? Half the time there is no place to even sit.

You should be able to live comfortably in your own place and be able to entertain your friends whenever possible, but if you can’t organize or clean for your own sake or the sake of your dream house, consider doing it for the sake of your friends' comfort.

Once you start cleaning up and organizing more, you may even find that you have more free time to do the fun things in life!

Never cut your own hair.

Everyone has their own version of this story – whether they cut their own hair in a fit of pique as a child, in the hopes of advancing their styling skills as a teenager, or even attempting to save money as an adult. Invariably, these efforts result in uneven layers at best, or at worst, temporary baldness. Let a stylist do it, please… they are trained professionals.

My story? I cut my own bangs while away at camp (I was 13) without bothering to look in the mirror, snipping away on the wrong side of my fingers. I guess I thought the mirror wouldn’t matter, since I hadn’t even turned the light on anyway. They ended up less than an inch long, and I traumatized my hair for the remainder of the summer (I did this the second week we were there). And no, I don’t have a picture… so quit asking! ;)

Find your own personal style.

Finally, what could be more empowering than determining one’s personal clothing style early?

From the first day my mom let me pick out my own clothes I was in heaven, putting together some very fashion-plate-worthy outfits… and others perhaps not as worthy. But they were my outfits, darn it, and who cared if my less fashion-forward elementary school classmates barraged me with impolite statements about them? To this day I wear my fashion choices proudly, even though they are not always worthy of a magazine cover.

And if you find you are wearing the same outfit as someone else (quelle horreur!), it will be so much easier to quickly make it your own if you already know what works for you.

"You can be better dressed when you own a lot of stuff."

- the irrepressible Helen Gurley Brown

So what do you think?

Still consider Barbie a bad role model?

How can she be considered anything but positive? Barbie has blazed her way in the face of adversity. What could be a better lesson for youngsters? Some of these may be hard lessons to learn but the earlier they are understood, the higher the likelihood of successful relationships, careers, and personal health.

It is clear that by projecting human characteristics onto a doll we project our worries and hang-ups onto it as well. But if we're going to anthropomorphize, why not try thinking positively and projecting the healthy feelings we have about ourselves to the doll, instead?






Alyssa from Ohio on September 06, 2020:

Finally someone in Barbie's corner! As a young girl, I had quite the collection of Barbie dolls and I have fond memories of playing dolls with my grandmother. I think this is an excellent article and gives us all some food for thought. Lessons can be learned from anything -- including Barbie dolls. There's always a positive and you've found them by taking a closer look at this iconic toy. I enjoyed the history lesson and learned quite a lot! I only disagree with you on one point - pink does not look good on everyone. I say this only because I have chosen to dye my hair red and pink just isn't my color anymore. haha!

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on January 07, 2016:

Michaela, thanks for commenting! :) I can see you feel very strongly about these issues, and it shows! Why not write about it? Be sure to link to me so people can see why you have become bent out of shape.

Also, I fear you have missed the entire point of this (tongue in cheek) hub. But I enjoyed reading your take on things. Thanks again! Why not check out some of my other writings while you are at it? You can see what i am really about.

Michaela from USA on January 06, 2016:

There are some points I don't agree with here and I'll lay them out:

1. Looks aren't everything, NOR SHOULD THEY BE! Telling someone who is not 'conventionally' attractive (ie. isn't blond and slim like Barbie) that they should hide themselves from society and "go into radio" is really cruel. Shouldn't people be more valued for their personality and intellectual capabilities?

2. Pink does not look good on everyone - regardless of skin tone. Have you even seen pink work on a ginger? I really doubt it, because I AM one and all shades of pink look terrible on me. Besides that, who's to say that everyone should like pink in the first place?

3. Just to be petty, I've been cutting my own hair for YEARS and people are always asking me where I got it done. So it's not impossible to learn to trim your own hair. When Barbie debuted as a doll, most people couldn't afford to visit a salon and MOM cut their hair.

4. You have completely failed to mention the implications that the popularity of a slim and blonde doll has had on the self-esteem of multitudes of girls who do not fit that image. It's no secret that being blonde and slim has been the idealized conventional beauty standard of this era and that any girl or woman who does not measure up is somehow lesser. I'm not just talking about curvy brunette girls and redheads, I'm referring to girls of color who rarely seem themselves represented in media or the toy industry. This is very damaging to people and to pretend otherwise is ignorant at best.

Julie K Henderson on April 29, 2015:

You are welcome.

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on April 29, 2015:

Thanks, Julie! I appreciate that. :)

Julie K Henderson on April 29, 2015:

Bravo! You made some surprisingly compelling points. Voted up.

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on November 14, 2013:

Hiya, Teaches! Long time no see. :)

Yes, a big part of the Barbie phenomenon is blatant consumerism, but there really are some decent lessons to be learned from her "adventures". Thanks for commenting!

Dianna Mendez on November 14, 2013:

I see a couple of real life barbies at the club gym weekly. They wear pink and black and are so fashionable with their ponytales, make up and cool shades. I guess when taken in the light you presented, we can learn something from Barbie.

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on November 08, 2013:

WVitanyi , hi! And yes, these can definitely apply to our little buddy Ken too.

Thank you for the read, comment, and follow! :)

William R Vitanyi from Edinboro, Pennsylvania on November 08, 2013:

Provocative hub, and no doubt applies to Ken as well! Keep up the good work.

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on November 08, 2013:

Hi, BB! Great to see you. :-)

Lots of people forget that Barbie was more than just pink, though... thanks so much for reading and commenting!

Brainy Bunny from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on November 08, 2013:

TeeHee! These lessons are pretty cute. And I've already learned at least one -- I'm wearing a pink shirt today!

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