Most women who played with Barbie dolls have a love/hate relationship with them. On one hand, they are a part of childhood that we can all relate to (99 percent of little girls in the U.S. have at least one Barbie), and on the other, most of us can remember thinking about how we wanted to look like her when we grew up — or expecting to, which is an extremely common idea. Of course, it's nearly impossible to grow up into the physical proportions of a Barbie doll; and we wouldn't want to anyway — if Barbie was a real woman she would be too thin to menstruate (not to mention her neck would be freakishly long!).
While we have all long-suspected that Barbie dolls might also contribute to the poor self-esteem and body image issues that seem to start earlier and earlier in little girls, we now have some pretty good science to back up that idea (see below). But Barbie is ingrained in American culture. So how do we deal with the issue of an iconic toy hurting children? We can't just outlaw them. Nickolay Lamm of mydeals.com
decided to use data and creativity to address the issue. He created a doll that looks like Barbie but has the measurments of an average 19-year-old American woman (with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). He made the original model on a 3-D printer, then converted it to look just like a Barbie doll in other ways. Nickolay wrote, "The end result is what Barbie would look like if she was a healthy, beautiful, 19 year old woman."
Turns out that several research experiments back up the idea that healthier-looking dolls can help young girls' self-esteem. In a 2006 study published in the journal Developmental Psychology, "Does Barbie Make Girls Want to Be Thin? The Effect of Experimental Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5- to 8-Year-Old Girls
," psychologist Suzanne Ive writes, "The thin beauty ideal for girls is, of course, present in many aspects of their sociocultural environment (i.e., advertising, TV, and peer groups), but dolls like Barbie — because of their iconic status — are likely to act as salient role models, at least for very young girls." In experiments on 5- to 8-year-old girls, I've found that playing with the Barbie dolls on one occasion resulted in lower body esteem reports, whereas girls who played with average-sized dolls and control subjects (girls who played with other toys) did not. And my study isn't the only one; this one by Doescheka Anschutz in the journal Sex Roles, found that when girls played with thin dolls, they ate less, making the connection between toys and eating disorders
in more vulnerable children.
What do you think of Lamm's doll? Do you like it? Would you buy it for a young female child over the Barbie doll if all other variables were the same (fun clothes, accessories, etc.)?
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