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Picture Models

  • Ina Manly Painter,
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"The childlike temperament of man is always assumed by God; He teaches him by pictures. All Bible revelation is a series of pictures, an array of symbols, which hold truths. We have very little direct teaching compared with picture teaching in the Scriptures. All the Temple, its services and incidents, were symbols. All Christ's miracles were truths acted out in incident; parables in action. …. Our Lord knew the value of lessons seen; hence He continually appealed to His hearers to look at things around and heed their teaching: 'Behold the fowls of the air' (Matt. 6:25). 'Behold a sower'" (Matt. 13:3). Christ supplies the model for effectively teaching sacred truths."1

We teach our children through pictures and illustrations, setting before them examples for their understanding. These examples serve as goads to firmly fasten the message to their hearts and consciences. If we are to raise wise children, we must employ God's wisdom pictures. Throughout Scripture God gives us precious models and illustrations.

In Proverbs, God "lays down a complete series of rules for life, and concentrates the most momentous precepts into the narrowest compass."2 We are given similes — "a figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by like or as …."3 For instance:

Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,
Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones
(Pr. 16:24 NKJ).
He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own
Is like one who takes a dog by the ears
(Pr. 26:17 NKJ).

These truths are practical lessons. They give us handles of faith with which we grasp life. They illuminate our understanding of God's righteous standard and help us remember the lesson by the picture model suggested to our minds.

Modern Picture Models

When should we begin teaching Scriptural picture illustrations to our children? What picture models should we set before them for their emulation?

Paul tells young Timothy, in 2 Timothy 3:13, that perilous times will come. The circumstances will not be good. Evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. Then Paul adds, "But you [italics added] must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:14, 15 NKJ). "But you…" This is the situation of life. There is evil, but our children must be taught to live rightly in spite of it. The wheat and the tares grow together. Whether it is sin in the world, the church, or the home, they have a covenant responsibility to behave in a godly manner. Paul continues to tell young Timothy that the God-inspired Scriptures are profitable for certain things. Are not these certain things — doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, exactly what we want for our children (vs. 16)? The message from Timothy's day remains the same. There will be things in this world that do not please God, "but you [we]" must live to the glory of God in spite of the circumstances.

God's Word admonishes and encourages all Christians to minister in every place, taking dominion for the glory of God, furthering His kingdom. Is this difficult? Yes, and it takes time. When our children are young we think we have forever to disciple them. As time goes by, we realize "forever" is a brief summation of a few short years. Making sure they have godly instruction and godly role models is part of our protection of their hearts and minds.

Just as God gives us picture models, the world gives us picture models as well. Do these images spark their desire for righteousness or appeal to the sin nature? Are they godly models for child's play, or do they fit into our "just for fun" category of rationalization, overshadowed by our cries "harmless, harmless."

[Note: The definition of sin has changed through the years. Sin used to be the transgression of God's law; however, we now define sin as anything that hurts someone, or us. "Hurt" is a relative term and can be allied where needed.]

Many non-Christian businesses market picture models especially designed for children. Do they love our children and want the best for them? No, of course not! Many businesses are operated by individuals who are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. They may not know that their businesses should be operated according to God's law and all transactions conducted to the glory of God. Without submission to God and His law, they are a law unto themselves, doing what is right in their own eyes. Are we and our children at the mercy of the lawless, being duped by their seductive allurements that we claim we have little power to resist?

Barbie as a Picture Model

With absolute insanity, I have chosen to focus, in general, upon a specific 43 year old, picture-model. [As Dr. Greg Bahnsen would say, "watch your toes."] There is much discussion about this model. "She's one sixth the size of a human and packs both a powerful economic and sociological punch. Mention her name and everyone in the room has an opinion. She's been accused of adding to the growing epidemic of anorexia and warping both male and female expectations of body image. Yet, every young girl in America longs to own her, dress her and play with her hair. Her name is Barbie …. Barbie was created by Ruth Handler, who based her loosely on a sexy (even sleazy) German doll named Lilli originally marketed to men." Quoting M. G. Lord's Forever Barbie, Moore-Henecke continues, "Remember 'Growing Up Skipper,' who developed quite a nice chest when you twisted her arm or 'Earring Magic Ken,' who wore a lavender vest, an earring in his left ear and a ring pendant?" (Deb Moore-Henecke, Rethinking Barbie, )

Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie™, tells her story on . One day, in 1959, she noticed that the only dolls her little girl Barbara had to play with were baby dolls. "There was a need for a doll that would inspire little girls to think about what they wanted to be when they grew up." Thus, the idea of the Barbie™ doll, the teenage fashion model, was born.

The Barbie™ doll is not a nurturing, mothering picture model. In fact, she does not mother at all. To become married and have children would probably have destroyed her image and greatly lessened Mattel's margin of profit. Barbie™ is a sleek, shapely, large bosomed doll with a small waist, broad shoulders, long legs, stunning hair and impeccable makeup. Her features are absolutely perfect. She is the ideal teen, the standard for model perfection, dressed in fitted, i-doll-izing, high fashion clothing, sporting the ultimate everything, complete with friends, accessories, and the financial means to do whatever she pleases. She is not accountable to anyone.

Barbiology facts at state, "Every second, two Barbie dolls are purchased somewhere in the world. Placed head to toe, all the Barbie dolls since 1959 would circle the earth more than seven times. Barbie is now a 1.9 billion dollar-per-year industry. Barbie is marketed in more than 140 countries worldwide. Barbie has had more than 75 careers, from registered nurse to rock star. Over 600 beautiful collectible Barbie dolls have been offered to our children since 1980." The web site at boasts that they are the #1 site for girls ages 2-11 and the #9 site for boys ages 6-12.

The associated press release March 6, 2002, posted at 3:58 p.m. at that TEHRAN, Iran is not too happy with Ken and Barbie™ . "Barbie is popular in Iran, but her skimpy outfits and ample proportions anger many in that country. One toy seller said, 'Every Barbie doll is more harmful than an American Missile.'"

Brian Zumhagen at gives an interesting timeline. Only a few years are enumerated below.
1959 Barbie was created by Mattel.
1960 Ken was created.
1970 Children were able to use the Barbie doll to reenact scenes from the movie The Exorcist.
1971 Barbie became a hippie, advocating peace and love.
1985 Barbie showcased in designer fashions.
1987 Barbie's concert tour fashions were inspired by Madonna.
1989 Barbie joined the armed forces.
1990 Barbie had a rap music career.
1997 Barbie became a Harley-Davidson doll.
1999 Barbie's 40th birthday. She had a butterfly tattoo on her stomach and her girlfriend had a nose ring.
2000 Barbie ran for president. Her platform was equality [actually egalitarianism], world peace, animal rights and environmental issues.

At the site the mission is to "engage, enchant and empower girls." An article by Amy Lynch sports the idea that pretending offers relief from worry, making a child feel safe. "Pretending gives her power to narrate her life on her own terms. Every time she imagines herself as powerful, the cognitive act of pretending helps her brain develop new pathways. She literally creates new neurological connections that build her self-confidence, optimism and potential."

Barbie and Eating Disorders

Is there a correlation between the number one selling doll, in the entire world, and the number one epidemic health disorder among young women? Online Counseling Guides offer the following information at The University of Illinois Counseling Center states:

Anorexia nervosa is a disruption in normal eating habits characterized by an all-consuming fear of becoming 'fat.' It typically starts in teenage women as a normal attempt to diet but gradually leads to more and more weight loss, often more than 25 percent of original body weight. There is an intense preoccupation with food and body size, which may involve compulsive exercising. As this happens, many normal activities may stop. Menstruation ceases in women and there are a number of physical symptoms of malnutrition such as lowered heart rate, low blood pressure, decreased metabolic rate and sensations of coldness particularly in the extremities. It is speculated that anorexia may function as an attempt to gain control over life or life circumstances when a person has felt little control in the past. It may also serve as an avoidance of the bewildering complexities of physical and emotional maturation. Social factors also seem to contribute to eating disorders. Excessive emphasis within our culture on slim, boyish figures for women make it increasingly hard for the adolescent girl, already worried about herself and her body, to feel acceptable. Increasing numbers of teenage girls resort to extreme diets or purging in attempts to make their maturing bodies conform to the expectations of society.
Bulimia is a cycle of uncontrolled binge eating as an attempt to control weight. Physical effects [of Bulimia] can also be serious. Frequent vomiting can cause permanent tooth damage from erosion of tooth enamel as well as damage to the tissues of the throat and esophagus. Kidney problems and seizures are also possible. Electrolyte imbalance with consequent risk of serious cardiac problems is also a significant danger.

The University of Florida Counseling Center also addresses the issue:

How do you feel about your body? Chances are you probably don't think it's good enough. Too fat, too skinny, too big, too small, not muscular enough-bottom line, you're not happy with it. This mania may stem partly from a steady diet of TV and magazine images where bodies are always in 'perfect shape'. Though many of us acknowledge that we cannot achieve model 'perfection' (after all, we don't have make-up artists, personal trainers, fashion designers, and professional photographers at our beck and call), we still behave like we can attain perfection, if only we'd try harder."

George Mason University addresses Eating Disorders: Myths and Campus Resources:

Our society, with its obsession with thinness and obtaining the perfect body, has cultivated the development of eating disorders. Research studies found that 52% of adolescents begin dieting before age 14. Among college females, 78% reported bingeing experiences and 8.2% used self-induced vomiting to control weight. Among the college student population, a reported 1% to 7% of male students suffer from eating disorders; among the general population, the estimate is 5%. Fatal dangers for both anorexics and bulimics include gastric ruptures; cardiac arrhythmia, and heart failure. Many other medial complications are not necessarily fatal, but can lead to permanent physical and neurological damages. For example, in an effort to reduce weight and maintain energy without eating, many individuals with eating disorders turn to laxatives and dieting pills. Side effects of inappropriate use of laxatives are dry skin due to dehydration, abdominal cramping, muscle cramps, and electrolyte imbalances which affect neurological functioning. Daily use of dieting pills may lead to rebound fatigue and hyperphagia, insomnia, mood changes, irritability, and when in extremely large doses, psychosis (Johnson & Conners, 1987). Knowledge about medical complications, such as hair loss, complaints of sore throat and bloating stomach, fatigue and muscle weakness, tooth decay, and edema, can help to identify this disorder.

(An unconfirmed report states that a leading university in the south recently replaced the plumbing in a girl's dorm due to the corrosive effect caused by stomach acids.)

Chris Godsey, at states "Body Image is no longer a female problem. In fact, men now have 10% of all eating disorders. Body image isn't limited by race, culture, religion, social or financial status, education or geography either. It's a human problem, and it runs remarkably deep. My self-esteem too often depends on how I see my body, and my body image is increasingly affected (infected?) by a continuous, arbitrary onslaught of images and messages that dictate the rights and wrongs of physical appearance. And I am not the only guy going through it…"

Does the Barbie™ doll offer innocent enjoyment for playing or are there subtle accompanying pressures through picture models, with little girls not only wanting to possess Barbie™, but actually wanting to become Barbie™? Perhaps Mattel should affix warning labels: The use of this product may contribute to a preoccupation with body image, discouragement and depression, and could lead to eating disorders.

Guarding Hearts

Barbie™ dolls are surely not the only models available to our children. We, as well as our children, are bombarded with the effects of our fallen culture. Whatever models we place before our children we need to consider whether or not they are instruments for godly instruction or instruments of unrighteousness? Since God demands that the totality of our lives be in covenant obedience to Him, that which does not glorify Him undermines that covenant relationship.

Do we guard our children's hearts with all diligence (Pr. 4:23), or do we pave the way for their giving their honor to others and their years to the cruel one (Pr. 5:9)? What occupies the hands and hearts of our little ones? Because our meaning and purpose is rooted in God, our homes, the teaching, and activities of our children should be no less spiritual than the teaching and activities of the church.

"O God, how long will the adversary reproach? Will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever?" (Ps. 74:10 NKJ). Could the answer be that the adversary's reproach will continue and God's name will be blasphemed for as long as we Christians continue to support their schemes and finance their wares with our tithes and offerings?

"The tumult of those who rise up against You increases continually" (Ps. 74:23 NKJ). No wonder, we have left off the good fight of faith. We are caught in a whirlwind of confusion and upheaval. We need to be rescued, to be saved from ourselves and our consumptions. On the one hand, we cry to God for relief from our oppressors; then on the other hand, we surround ourselves with their products for our entertainment and self-affirmation.

We lavish our children with a well-rounded American way of life then moan and groan because they grow up to embrace it. "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Pr. 6:33). That is the hard way. The easy way is to allow our children to go in the way they desire, being constantly indoctrinated by society and controlled by their basic natures. This will produce less fighting at home, at least until we parents begin fighting with the authorities.

Our lives as adults are made up of idolatrous amusements, styles and trends. We balance our love of pleasure with our love of God, playing to the edge (2 Tim 3:4). As self-idolaters, we possess all the worldliness we can afford. Our judgments are made in terms of ourselves and our idolatrous pleasures. We demand that restaurant service be to our liking, that our seats at the ball game be the best available, and we eternally shop, lavishing ourselves to our heart's content. If our pizza is not delivered on time or our dry cleaning not pressed a certain way, we don't expect to pay. We have little or no conscience in terms of whether or not we are glorifying God. Our homes and hearts are filled with idolatries and hypocrisies, and then we declare that all of the Bible is for all of life! No wonder there are idols in our children's toy boxes! Are our children exploited, entertained and preoccupied at the expense of their covenant blessings? Unlike Rachael (Gen. 31:34) who stole her father's household idols, our idols are too many to be contained in a camel's saddle or hidden under our skirts.

The law of God is to be in the hearts of our children (Pr. 3:1). If it is to be anything, it must be everything. The time to teach them is while their hearts are tender (Pr. 4:3). The picture models purchased for them must honor the Lord (Pr. 3:9). We must not withhold good from our children while it is in our power to do so (Pr. 3:27) or foolishly indulge them (Pr. 29:15; 13:24). Let us not be neglectful to recognize the allurement of our children to leave the paths of uprighteousness (Pr. 2:13). May we be beware of raising a leeching daughter who cries "give, give" (Pr. 30:15v), or a prodigal son who demands, "Give me" (Lk. 15:12). All of Scripture is sufficient to teach our children the good and right way and to enable us in setting before them a path of righteousness to the glory of God.


1. H. Jellie, A Homiletic Commentary on the Book of Jeremiah, 11.

2. Charles Bridges, Proverbs, vii.

3. Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, 810.

  • Ina Manly Painter

Ina Manly Painter has a Master of Science Degree in Educational/Counseling Psychology. She and her husband, Harrison, live in Knoxville , TN , where they have been affiliated with Re/Max Preferred Properties as REALTORS, for many years. They have four children, Paige, and wife Christa, Laura, Jared, and Amanda and one grandson, Caleb. They can be contacted by email at [email protected].

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