JCU logoLibrary Guides

Interactive Rubric for Written Communication: Reflective Essay

This guide will help you understand common conventions of academic writing and the application of marking rubrics

Reflective essays

Genre: A reflective essay reflects critically on personal experience and opinion in light of broader literature, theories or subject materials. As conventions and expectations may differ across contexts, always check with your lecturer for the specific conventions of the genre.

Context: This short reflective essay and reply was written in response to a weekly assessment task in an atypical development unit that required students to reflect on their own position in relation the following question:

Do Barbie Dolls affect girls' body image? If you had (or have) a young daughter, would you allow her to play with Barbie or Bratz dolls? Why or why not?

Reflective essay example 

Response: Barbie Dolls and Body Image: Just Child’s Play?This title links to the topic of the writing and raises a question that implies a thesis.

Illnesses such as depression and eating disorders have been directly associated with body image dissatisfaction, and in turn, poor body image has been closely linked to low self-esteem (Birbeck & Drummond, 2006). Some research has suggested that playing with Barbie dolls can have a negative effect on young girls' body image (Papalia et. al. 2012), however other studies into when and how notions of body image are first created and internalised remain inconclusive. These sentences identify the topic and provide a context for the reflection. The thesis could be a little more obvious, though it is implied. As Smolak (2004) asserts, ‘We know little about the development of body image, particularly during the pre-school and early elementary school years’ (pp. 19-20). This suggests that many factors such as parental guidance and modelling, family values, abuse, peer influence, and issues of teasing or bullying (Kostanski & Gullone, 2007) may contribute to young girls’ body image.These sentences effectively integrate authoritative and relevant sources to establish a link between body image and the use of dolls. The direct quote is appropriately cited with the date appearing after the author's name and the page number at the end of the quote. The style of the paragraph is appropriately formal for this task.
I remember playing with Barbie dolls over 40 years ago, however, I also remember my mother helping choose scraps of material from the rag-bag and showing me how to design little outfits for ‘Barbie’ and cut and stitch them. Was this quality bonding time? Both of my own daughters played with Barbies, but also with Cabbage Patch Dolls, Pocket Pollys and Buzz Lightyear. Cabbage Patch and Polly were siblings and Barbie and Buzz were the parents. All these dolls had extremely different body ratios to each other, yet my girls invented conversations that these dolls had with each other. They were seemingly oblivious to the impossibility that this could occur in real life. The dolls were more like props for their fantasy play, and this is perhaps where we need to give more credit to children - they know that dolls are just dolls. I think it is the values that children receive from family, peers and broader society that put Barbie in a bad light. This paragraph introduces personal experience to reflect on the topic and illustrate the thesis. The first person narrative form (e.g., 'I') is appropriate for the task. The content relates to the topic and helps to develop the thesis.  The thesis is that children's ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy is sometimes underestimated but new celebrity marketing makes this distinction even more difficult.
It may be that the distinction between reality and fantasy is more strongly influenced for the current generation of children. When my girls (15 years ago) played with Barbie, they also played with Buzz Lightyear (they got married) and really played with dolls as props for their own dramatic play. I always thought they were enacting their beginning understandings of social relationships, rather than focusing on the physical, as they understood that dolls are not real people. However, I have to reflect on the more recent advent of Brittney Spears dolls, and Christina Aguilera dolls (which look like Barbie dolls to me). These dolls are modeled on real people who have celebrity status in the pop culture that is so ferociously devoured by young girls. There is an interesting study (University of Bath, 2005) that suggests children's schoolyard discussions are increasingly centred on sports celebrities, pop stars and TV shows, rather than toys and games: ‘Today’s junior school children seem to inhabit a seamlessly branded world where celebrities, toys, TV shows and electronics are almost indistinguishable from each other’ (para. 7). Perhaps this more recent fusion of reality and fantasy in dolls creates a more ominous scenario in the types of role models children are exposed to and the range of goals they aspire to. This paragraph demonstrates criticality and reflexivity as key aspects of analysis. The writer reflects critically on the argument from her own experience to consider the broader changes that may affect the applicability of that argument in a more recent context. There is also cohesion and continuity with the content from the previous paragraph (i.e., children's distinction between reality and fantasy). This contributes to a clear structure and sequence of ideas.


We acknowledge the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first inhabitants of the nation and acknowledge Traditional Owners of the lands where our staff and students, live, learn and work.Acknowledgement of Country

Creative Commons Licence
Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) 4.0 International License. Content from this Guide should be attributed to James Cook University Library. This does not apply to images, third party material (seek permission from the original owner) or any logos or insignia belonging to JCU or other bodies, which remain All Rights Reserved.