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Hollywood's Barbie Problem: How Will Human Actress Size Up?

Yahoo Movies

Hollywood's Barbie Problem: How Will Human Actress Size Up?

(Alan Diaz/AP Photo)

Movie Star Barbie — in a hot pink convertible, no doubt — will be cruising into Hollywood very soon. But how can any human actress live up to the doll's impossibly proportioned bod?

Mattel and Sony Pictures have announced plans to give the popular plastic plaything her long-awaited silver-screen close-up, with glam franchise ambitions no less. Unlike immensely popular toy-to-screen franchises such as "The Lego Movie" or "Transformers," this Barbie is going to be 100 percent live-action. This means Sony needs to scare up an actress (read: a real animate woman) to portray what is decidedly an inhumanly dimensioned character.

"If the film is to appeal to a wider audience, it will clearly have to inject a sense of comic irony," Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture, tells Yahoo Movies. (Yes, it is going to be a comedy.) "I can't imagine Barbie, the live-action woman, is going to be forced into the body of the doll with Flintstones-like devices."

Animated versions of Barbie looking proportionally identical to the doll have shown up in direct-to-DVD videos like "Barbie: The Princess & the Pop Star." We also see her in Pixar's "Toy Story 3" (see video below). 

But there are barriers to realizing a dimensionally faithful life-size Barbie for the big scren: Her estimated 32-16-29 measurements are thought to be shared by fewer than one in 100,000 women, according to Rehabs.com.

"If filmmakers try to remake a real person to look like Barbie she will look too absurd for anyone to concentrate on the story," observes Case Western Reserve University's Renee Sentilles, a professor of women's history.

(From Rehabs.com)

One expert in women's and gender issues points to the film's writer, Jenny Bicks of "Sex and the City" and "The Big C" TV series, as a foreboding clue. "I expect that the image will be hyper-sexualized," says Dustin Harp of the University of Texas at Arlington.

Making "Blockbuster Barbie" to exact scale is highly unlikely, therefore adjustments will need to be made. Filmmakers could take a cue from Angelina Jolie, who had to retrofit herself (with bra padding) to achieve the look of her video game counterpart in the "Tomb Raider" series.

Feminists and eating disorder experts have long considered the 55-year-old doll's body shape problematic. Daniel Tynski, the project manager on Rehabs.com's Barbie study, tells Yahoo, "This unrealistic portrayal, for some, may play a part in the increasingly unrealistic perception many women have of their own bodies."

The issues surrounding Barbie's physical appearance are not just limited to her curvature.

'Tomb Raider,' 2001 (Paramount Pictures)

"Whatever very tall, very thin, huge rack-having, genitally incorrect, long-haired, blond, white actress they get to play Barbie, even though she will be structurally sound unlike the doll, even though she won't fall forward on the weight of her own breasts and the lack of ability of her frame to hold herself up, she will still be taking a franchise into 3D that tells girls that the farther away they get from that white, skinny, tall, blond, big rack ideal, the less pretty, the less valuable, and the less successful they'll be," says Jennifer L. Pozner, executive director of Women and Media in News and author of "Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV."

Though one exec at Mattel contends any body image issues young girls have stem from parenting and not Barbie toys.

Another artist, who sells Barbie-like dolls with body shapes more representative of the average woman, suggests there hasn't been enough public pushback in recent years. Nickolay Lamm, known for making "normal-looking" Barbie dolls, told Yahoo, "I feel this movie is about revitalizing the Barbie brand, not about playing defense on body image."

[Photos: Barbie Gets (Another) Real Makeover]

The script for the "Barbie" film is set to have her inspiring change in those around her and depicting all of her many iconic professions, which paints Barbie in an empowering light. And yeah, Ken will be there, too, along with her other friends.

But Pozner warns, "This gloss of empowerment is in name only."

Models pose at Barbie The Dream Closet Cocktail Party in 2012 (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

"There's the Barbie doctor, the Barbie astronaut, the Barbie fashion designer, and yet always this incredibly impossible plastic — and I mean plastic both literally and very, very figuratively – image of 'you can pretend you're any of these things, but really what we know you want to be and what you know you'll only ever be is the domestic queen of your dream house being perfect for Ken,'" Pozner explains, calling the Barbie ideal "incredibly poisonous to children."

Sentilles is more optimistic. "If the live-action Barbie is pretty and a convincing warrior, will the girl fans actually notice if she has that crazy body? Maybe having a more realistic movie version will convince Mattel to reform the plastic version."

[Related: Speed Date: Caity Lotz Doesn't Want a Stupid Barbie Doll]

Though unlikely, there's a possibility filmmakers may nix normalizing the character altogether and opt for CGI route to "enhance" the actress chosen for the part. Rachel Weingarten, Marketing Strategist at Culet Marketing, expects that visual effects will invariably be employed for live-action Barbie. "I think that photoshopping everything will allow filmmakers to play even more in print and have a heavy hand with the CGI," she tells Yahoo. "It will be fascinating to pay attention to the chatter of young and tween girls to see if they're able to fully comprehend the differences between overinflated and today's idealized and unrealistic look."

Sony Pictures declined comment, and Mattel did not respond before publication.

The Barbie movie, currently sans title, will head into production later this year.

—Meriah Doty contributed to this report.