Almost 40% of children are thought to be dissatisfied with the way they look, and girls as young as five report weight concerns and express a desire to be thinner.
Body image has consistently appeared in the top three issues of concern in the Mission Australia Survey of Young Australians from 2006 to 2013.
My dad approached with something dark in his hands. I couldn’t believe my eyes: It was the Little Mermaid Edition Barbie! I affirmed my ownership of the traveler, and took her battered body in my hands.
Nine years had passed since I had seen the almost-world-renowned Olympic diver.
Launched in 1959, named after the inventor’s daughter Barbara, and owned by 99% of 3-10 year old girls in the USA, Barbie has been a popular request on young girls’ Christmas wish lists for 55 years. She has even been said to be perpetuating gender stereotypes that lead to domestic violence and the gender pay gap. There is no need to question whether Barbie’s body shape is unrealistic.
Barbie has been blamed for causing body image issues and even eating disorders.Researchers have reminded us that her proportions would occur in less than 1 in 100,000 adult women, that her waist is 20cm smaller than a reference group of anorexic patients; and that, with these proportions, she would not be able to menstruate or even hold up her head.The doll’s creator, Mattel, claims that the proportions were created for ease of dressing and undressing the doll, not replicating an adult figure.One experimental study with 5-8 year olds in the UK evaluated the impact of viewing images of Barbie (US size 2), more realistic doll Emme (US size 16) or neutral images that did not involve dolls, while listening to a simple story.The girls who viewed the images of Barbie had significantly lower scores on the Body Esteem scale after being exposed to the images, and indicated a preference for a thinner current body, and a thinner adult body.The realistically proportioned Lammily doll has been released just in time for Christmas this year.Developed by Artist Nickolay Lamm, Lammily features include a body size and shape that represents the average 19 year old American woman, natural make-up, and sticker packs to add acne, stretch marks and cellulite.Children’s media is known to perpetuate stereotypical messages about weight, beauty, and appearance; the “good” characters are beautiful, and the “bad” ones are ugly, heavier characters have few friends, and are less happy than the thinner ones.Research with 3-5 year olds indicates that they already clearly associate larger figure sizes with more negative characteristics, such as being naughty and mean.I am, however, the proud owner of a Little Mermaid Edition Barbie.At some point in almost every little girl’s life, she becomes engrossed in the Pepto-Bismol-pink world of Barbies, a place I entered at the age of seven. Utterly bewildered, we combed through the freshly mown grass and woods, but unfortunately, our search bore no fruit.