Skinny Barbie blamed over eating disorders
BARBIE dolls, the rite of passage for many young girls, may contribute to eating disorders in adolescence, according to new research.
The study found that the Barbie dolls, which are far thinner than traditional shapes, particularly at the waist, make girls want to be unrealistically slim when they grow up.
The researchers from two British universities claim Barbie dolls could promote girls’ insecurity about their image which in turn may contribute indirectly to insecurity and eating disorders later in life.
They say the study is the first to identify body worries in such young children. “This [study] demonstrates that it is not body-related information conveyed by dolls per se that has a direct impact on young girls’ body image, but by Barbie dolls specifically, which represent a distortedly thin body ideal,” says the study, led by Helga Dittmar, reader in psychology at Sussex University.
“These ultra-thin images not only lowered young girls’ body esteem but also decreased their satisfaction with their actual body size, making them desire a thinner body.”
Dr Margaret Ashwell, science consultant and former director of the British Nutrition Foundation, said: “These results are very important and show that children can be influenced at a very early age. We need to be aware of that and take the appropriate action.”
The researchers say their findings suggest schools should educate the youngest children, as well as adolescents, about the risks of being too worried about having an “ideally” thin body shape. “Such programmes need to make girls aware that the thin beauty ideal is unattainable and unhealthy,” adds the study.
The researchers claim that fewer than one in 100,000 women has the thin body shape of the Barbie doll.
In the study, reported in the journal Developmental Psychology, the researchers from Sussex and the University of the West of England looked at the effects of images of two dolls on almost 200 primary school-age girls aged five to eight.
They were shown images of different figures, including Barbie and Emme, a new American doll whose body proportions represent a larger body shape.
After they had been shown the images, the girls were asked to pick figures that represented their actual body shape, the body shape they ideally desired and their ideal body shape as an adult woman.
The difference between the shape girls thought they had and the shape they wanted was then analysed. The results showed that girls aged five to six were more dissatisfied with their shape and wanted more extreme thinness after seeing Barbie doll images than after seeing other pictures. For those aged six to seven the negative effects were even stronger.
A spokesman for Mattel, which manufactures Barbie, said: “Barbie allows girls to dream that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. Barbie is not modelled in human scale and we will continue to talk to girls and mums and monitor their opinions.”
Additional reporting: Laura St Quinton
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