There’s not that much left to debate when it comes to Barbie and how her image may not be the most realistic representation of a woman’s body—and now science is saying they have a pretty solid study to back it up.
According to new research published in the September issue of the journal Body Image, researchers had 112 girls ages six to eight play with thin Barbie dolls and not-so-thin ‘Tracy’ dolls (they were modeled after the character Tracy Turnblad from Hairspray). A second group played with a range of other, non-branded figures; all of the dolls were dressed in both modest clothing and swimsuits.
What they found: “Girls who played with full-figured dolls showed less body dissatisfaction after doll exposure compared to girls who played with thin dolls,” the researchers reported—and said all it took was a quick three minutes of playing with the dolls for the girls to show dissatisfaction with their own body size.
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In addition, the “girls who played with thin dolls experienced higher body-size discrepancies than the girls who played with full-figured dolls. Playing with unrealistically thin dolls may encourage motivation for a thinner shape in young girls.”
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As reported on by the DailyMail, Dr. Kathleen Keller, a nutrition and food scientist at Pennsylvania State University, wrote in the journal: “In each experimental group, girls desired a body shape that corresponded to the doll with which they played, suggesting that playtime may create a context in which the dolls represent a culturally accepted body shape. Differences between the body sizes girls have, versus the bodies they want, may suggest a future of disordered eating to achieve the desired body shape, regardless of whether that is thin or full-figure.The findings not only contribute to a growing literature on the impact of exposure to thin images on the development of disordered eating in, but also they highlight previously unaddressed concerns related to playing with full-figure dolls.”
But, as we reported earlier this year, Mattel, the makers of Barbie, have given the doll a bit of a makeover this year, releasing a new range that includes new sizes.