Vintage body anxiety

I gave a talk last week at the Kansas City Library about Barbie. I won’t belabor my ideas here, but I did want to share a vintage Barbie workout video that one of the awesome audience members sent to me later. She had potent memories of doing these workout videos as a little girl.

I didn’t have this particular video, but I do remember being a little obsessed with some kind of mommy and me workout video. (involving real, live, calorie-burning obsessed women and girls!). In some ways, that time seemed pretty innocent. There was no obesity epidemic. There was no Jessica Simpson. It was just girls and their moms having a good time in cotton candy pink leg warmers. Right?
On the other hand, of course, this was sometimes the beginning of some girls’ body anxiety. Many moms of the 80s gave their little girls these videos as a not-so-subtle attempt to get them to lose weight, or induct them into the horrific female ritual of body hatred and fitness addiction.
I suppose it all really came down to the spirit in which girls and women of the 80s marched it out–with gleeful joy to be moving and grooving or a sense of obligation and body anxiety?
Thanks to Kristin Marciniak for finding the video.

Join the Conversation

  • Av0gadro

    My mom had a Jane Fonda tape (not a video) and getting to venture into the usually forbidden territory of her room and work out with her was a highlight of my young life. That “Feel the burn” perky Fonda voice makes me cringe now though.
    My mother had tremendous body issues of her own, but she did an awesome job never projecting them onto her daughters. We were, for example, allowed to have junk food as teenagers as long as it was hidden from her.
    In principle, I don’t think working out with your mom is damaging – it’s good for parents to model healthy habits, after all. It’s the conversation that goes along with the working out that can do serious damage.

  • Emperor Zarkov

    I love the uncomfortably long safety disclaimer at the beginning. Ha!

  • alijade

    I totally had this!!! and I loved it. I don’t really think it caused any body anxiety, that came later on. I was probably 6 and 7 when I had this and pretty happy with how I looked. I loved to dance, and I think that was most of the appeal of this video…and the stop-animation moving barbie. Oh man, this brings back awesome memories of pink spandex bike shorts with lace and hearts. Also, I’m pretty sure that’s Jennifer Love Hewitt on the left with the long brown hair.

  • another constellation

    I actually did watch this tape as a kid, and I worked out to it a little, too. Mostly I just loved Barbies and found the “right heeeere, left theeeeeere; I don’t know!” so infectious that I still get it stuck in my head. (And that is Jennifer Love Hewitt.)

  • metabonbon

    “Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.”

  • ShyFoxie

    I used to do exercise with my mom, although this video was a bit before my time. She gave me the little condensed soup cans to use as weights, and my sister and I also used to help fetch my dad stuff when he worked out.
    My mom worked out because exercise was a good outlet for the stress of raising the two of us, and my dad’s in the army. My sister and I thought that exercise was good because our parents had a healthy attitude towards nutrition and fitness. I think if our parents had been pushing it on us to prevent us from getting fat, we would have picked up on it and not been as enthusiastic.

  • puckalish

    i friggin’ love that ad… i remember almost laughing til i cried when it first aired… i musta been 12 or something, but that was awesome.

  • rebekah

    that just seems creepy to me. Maybe it was because my mom never allowed work out videos in the house (she is too uncomfortable with her own body to dare even try workout videos) or because I was never a real big barbie girl to begin with. But to stand in front of the television and work out has always seemed kind of like cheating to me.

  • lovelyliz

    Oh my god. I had this workout video when I was little – I remember getting bored with it pretty easily and eventually eating icecream.

  • mysticapple

    My mum had the Jane Fonda video and I loved to work out to it, also because of a love of dancing.
    I had Barbie dolls but I never once looked at them as something I could one day become… they were just dolls. It was as much something I could become as teddy bear! lol
    Video’s didn’t give me any body anxiety either. The only thing that ever did was comments from other people. Once I hit puberty I had curves and because I did dancing I was running around in a leotard quite a bit. The first time I ever remember feeling self-conscious about my changing shape was a comment from another girl on my rounded belly which she referred to as “chubby”.
    It kinda went downhill from there though into eating disorder territory by age 16 that was fueled by more comments from kids at school. It didn’t help that I turned out to be a very voluptuous teen. In retrospect I see now that I had curves in all the right places but at the time I was convinced I was obese at only 57kgs (about 120lb’s?).
    I realise that my experience isn’t everyone else’s, but I’ve never really understood how something like an exercise video or Barbie could be a catalyst for body image problems. I’ve always felt that something had to have happened already through the form of comments from friends or family to draw attention to a “problem”.

  • paperispatient

    I remember doing a workout video with a friend, sometime in elementary school. But when I tried to do it after she went home, I felt silly and just sat and watched it. Should’ve eaten ice cream!

  • Toongrrl

    My parents had a Richard Simmons video, Sweatin to the Oldies. The buns of steel thing was very creepy though

  • lgm

    What is unwholesome about this? The whole thing looks healthy and happy. It looks age appropriate — nothing too hard for a growing bones and knees.

  • tan

    I used to workout with my mom to “20 Minute Workout” back in the 80’s.
    She stopped watching it once it started being more about up close crotch and ass shots. The reached out to a male audience and it was no longer about working out anymore. sigh…
    It’s funny too, because when I think back to the 80’s, it seemed like there was more backlash against sexist stuff like this than there is today.

  • Gnatalby

    Well, I don’t love it being associated with Barbie and her impossible physique, I wish it starred someone with a more kid-like body type, but I loved dancing around as a kid and probably would have found this fun if I did it with my mom.
    But any tool is a weapon if you hold it right, so if it the focus wasn’t “moving your body is fun and makes you feel good” but “you drastically need to change your unacceptable shape and here’s how” then yeah, I’d object to it.
    I was a super active kid, and I was still kind of fat, the feeling that I was failing at exercise because I wasn’t slim ended up putting me off the whole endeavor.

  • GrowingViolet

    I completely agree – eating-disorder level body anxiety comes from a combination of predisposition to mental illness, the attitudes of family members toward a number of things (control, food, health, body image), and an overall culture of unhealthy eating (which very much includes overeating). Not from a workout video. So people don’t like it: fair enough, but don’t appropriate eating disorders as some noble, socially important reason for not liking it.
    The wording of this post troubles me as well, with the repeated implications that fitness, exercise, and working out are somehow linked to disorders. They can be incorporated into eating disorders, but generally they’re essential to health, and help many/most people feel good about their bodies. Similarly, being aware of and conscientious about the calories, etc., you’re consuming isn’t bad. Obsessing about it and having highly restrictive standards is disordered. It’s a mistake to conflate the two.

  • mermeg

    Do any other children of the 80s remember “Get in Shape Girl”? It was this series of products aimed at girls and there were workout videos and equipment. I have a vague memory of having an audio cassette of a workout and one of those long ribbons on a baton that you twirl around. I always thought it was kind of a funny thing, and it was sooo very 80s (I’m almost positive they sold legwarmers and Olivia Newton John style sweatbands).