Throughout our lives, we are deeply influenced by the plethora of things which lie before us. From our surroundings, we soak up information like a sponge, and through observation, we pick up people's behaviors and beliefs and incorporate them into our own way of thinking. As young children, we have few predispositions in the way we interpret our environment. Instead, our impressionable minds are sculpted by what we see as the portrayal of our society. What children see are the physical and social norms that we have placed on human beings. From these norms they learn how to think about the world around them.
Barbie has become a major icon for young girls over the last several decades. Little do most people know, this pretty pink princess was based on a German prostitute comic strip character named Lili, who was later made into an 11 1/2 inch "sex pet" adult toy and sold exclusively in adult stores. In 1958, Mattel bought the rights to Lili and began the transformation from the adult toy to the Barbie doll that we know today. The traditional Barbie is known for her 40-18-32 measurements, her glasssy-eyed stare, her voluminous long blond hair, and her perfect features. We see in her a sparkling personality, wealth, and stylish fashions, and young girls find themselves wanting to be a supermodel just like Barbie when they grow up. Barbie sends the message that it is ideal to spend your time shopping and talking on the phone. When the first Teen Talk Barbie came out in 1992, the doll was pre-programmed to utter messages like "Math is tough." Barbie further pushes girls into gender roles and stereotypes by emphasizing pink as the feminine color, glamour and fame, and the "perfect" body. Girls begin to stereotype the ideal female as the pretty, blond, and slim model that Barbie presents us.
We are pushed further into a gender dichotomy when observing the portrayal of women in children's cartoons. Cartoons date back to the days when the Flintstones were the Flagstones and most shows were in black and white. Fred Flintstone has always been the big man with the power and Wilma, even in the 90s, is still the little housecleaning and cooking wife. It was always George of the Jungle that swings to save the distressed Jane, and Jane never does any rescuing herself. Mrs. Jane Jetson is the perfect example of the stereotypical cartooned women. Her waist is small, her skirts are short, and she always has a burning desire to shop. She nags and primps, and sends the message that the woman's place is in the home wearing skimpy clothing and serving the man. Some early cartoons like Looney Tunes did not even include female roles. Now, those which do, featured females in subjective ways. Miss Piggy, the famous Muppet Baby, dresses up and obsesses about personal appearance while Kermit and his male gang have bonding adventures. Later cartoons fall victim to the same principle, that cartoons lack strong female characters and instead depict women in traditional stereotypical ways. The Ghostbusters' secretary, Janine, is whiny and flaky. April O'Neal is never involved in the TMNT's action, instead, she's rescued before danger can catch up with her. The few cartoons which do feature women in positive roles, such as She-Ra, depict women with unrealistic features and bodies.Even Disney Classics depict helpless women being rescued by brave and charming men. Ariel the Little Mermaid, Jasmine and Esmerelda all have the typical Disney bodies with big hair, tiny wrists, even tinier waists, and a defined cleavage. Meg is less than half the size of Hercules and has wrists the size of her nose, arms the width of her neck and a midriff that, when isolated, is indistinguishable from her thighs.We are continually bombarded by images of the "ideal" female body type. The current message ingrained in our minds is: "thin is beautiful." Stores are filled with diet pills and supplements, there is an increasingly large amount of publicity for Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, and the models in advertisements are becoming thinner and thinner. The media has pressured women into adopting the mindset that being thin will make you attractive to be accepted in society. Advertisements are not only selling clothes, they're selling images of bone-thin women and seductive bodies. Studies have shown that images such as the Calvin Klein ad featuring Kate Moss lower peoples' self-esteem and satisfaction with their personal attractiveness. Furthermore, it pressures people into conforming with the "thin norm" and encourages dieting and starving yourself. Adolescent girls and young women are especially vulnerable to eating disorders which, according to studies, are directly linked to the constant exposure of overly thin models. A recently established group known as About-Face is devoted to "Stop Starvation Imagery". They can be contacted at www.about-face.org.
As we approach the 21st century, we must be aware of the significant contributions we make to our society. Though we continue to move farther and farther away from a gender dichotomy, we must also recognize that we are affected by our environment, and as long as women are put forth as being less competent than men, and judged based on appearance, there will continue to be an unjustified negative portrayal of women.