Skip to main content

Ken and Barbie at life size


There has been considerable discussion in both the scientific literature and general media concerning the appropriateness of the body shape and proportions of the Ken and Barbie dolls, the most popular dolls in modern history. The greatest concern has been of the possible influence that these, and other “cultural ideals” for body shape, may have on young children. However, these concerns have been based entirely on the subjective interpretation of how one perceives the body dimensions of the dolls relative to an adult size. We therefore used our skills in anthropometry and the rules of allometry to scale the dolls to an adult height to determine the dimensions that these dolls would assume at this adjusted size. These were compared to actual proportions of several representative adult groups of predominantly Anglo-Australian males and females. The critics have been justified in their opinions since both Barbie and Ken are thin relative to the reference samples. Barbie's mean girth z-score relative to a reference cross-section of the young adult population was −4.2. This indicates that the probability for such a body shape is less than 1 in 100,000. Ken is more realistic at about 1 in 50.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Brownell, K. D. (1991). Dieting and the search for the perfect body: Where physiology and culture collide.Behaviour Therapy, 22 1–12.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Charest-Lilly, P., Sherrill, C., & Rosentswieg, J. (1987). Body composition of women with anorexia nervosa: A pilot study.Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 4 126–136.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Cox, D. R. (1977). Barbie and her playmates.Journal of Popular Culture, 11 303–307.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Creekmore, A. M., & Pedersen, E. (1979). Body proportions of fashion illustrations, 1840–1940, compared with the Greek ideal of female beauty.Home Economics Research Journal, 7 379–388.

    Google Scholar 

  5. DASET (Department of the Arts, Sport, the Environment and Territories). (1992).Pilot survey of the fitness of Australians. Canberra: Australian Government Printing Service.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Dodds, J. (1994, May 4). The anti-hero of the beauty world.Sydney News.

  7. Fleming, A. T. (1991, March). Living dolls.Allure, pp. 128–133.

  8. Furnham, A., Hester, C., & Weir, C. (1990). Sex differences in the preference for specific female body shapes.Sex Roles, 22 743–754.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Garner, D. M., Garfinkel, P. E., Schwartz, D., & Thompson, M. (1980). Cultural expectations of thinness in women.Psychological Reports, 47 483–491.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Hartland, M. (1981).The anthropometric prediction of body density and relative body fat in South Australian males. Unpublished honors thesis, The Flinders University of South Australia, Australia.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Kefgen, M., & Touchie-Specht, P. (1986).Individuality in clothing selection and personal appearance (4th ed.) New York: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Lewis, L. (1987). Form and female authorship in music videos.Communication, 9 355–377.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Barbie at 24: A curse-or blessing? (1983, September 11).Newsweek, 102, 10–11.

  14. Norton, K. (1984).South Australian females: Body fat, somatotype, body density and anthropometric fractionation of body mass. Unpublished master's thesis, The Flinders University of South Australia, Australia.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Norton, K. I., Whittingham, N. O., Carter, J. E. L., Kerr, D. A., & Gore, C. J. (1994). Measurement techniques in anthropometry. In K. I. Norton & T. S. Olds (Eds.),Anthropometry and anthropometric profiling. Sydney: Nolds Sports Scientific Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Pedersen, E. L., & Markee, N. L. (1991). Fashion dolls: Representations of ideals of beauty.Perceptual and motor skills, 73 93–94.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Rintala, M., & Mustajoki, P. (1992). Could mannequins menstruate?British Medical Journal, 305 1575–1576.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Rozin, P., & Fallon, A. (1988). Body image, attitudes to weight, and misperceptions of figure preferences of the opposite sex: A comparison of men and women in two generations.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 97 342–345.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Silverstein, B., Perdue, L., Peterson, B., & Kelly, E. (1986). The role of the mass media in promoting a thin standard of bodily attractiveness for women.Sex Roles, 14 519–532.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Sutton-Smith, B. (1986).Toys as culture. New York: Gardner Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Tisdall, S. (1994, January 4). Group “liberates” Barbies.Sydney Morning Herald, p. 5.

  22. Wilkinson, D. Y. (1987). The doll exhibit: A psycho-cultural analysis of black female role stereotypes.Journal of Popular Culture, 21 19–29.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kevin I. Norton.

Additional information

Special thanks to Melissa Clough, Brendon Dews, Loretta Downie, Judy Morris, and Kim Birchall.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Norton, K.I., Olds, T.S., Olive, S. et al. Ken and Barbie at life size. Sex Roles 34, 287–294 (1996).

Download citation


  • Social Psychology
  • Adult Population
  • Scientific Literature
  • Reference Sample
  • Body Shape