JUST one play session with a Barbie doll makes girls as young as five want to be thin, researchers claim.
Barbies should be avoided and parents should do their best not to comment on their daughter’s looks, says Flinders University professor of psychology Marika Tiggemann.
Prof Tiggemann, an international expert on body image, said it was preferable for girls “not to be given Barbies when they are young”.
“If girls already have Barbies then parents should encourage them to do more than just make them look pretty,” she said.
But the makers of Barbie and parents of young fans have scoffed at the findings of the study, published in the journal Body Image.
The study involved interviews with 160 girls aged five to eight from a range of Australian primary schools.
The research team led by Karlie Rice says playing with, or looking at, images of Barbie dolls even just once encouraged girls to want a thin body.
“Exposure to Barbie promoted internalisation of the thin ideal in this sample of girls,” Prof Tiggemann said.
“This means they think appearance is important and in particular being skinny is good.”
She said growing obesity levels had led to a “stigma against fat”.
“If fat is bad, then thin is good, and thinner is better,” Prof Tigge- mann said. Despite this, researchers did not find there was any immediate effect on body image or body dissatisfaction in the young girls.
Dr Michael Shore, vice-president of global insights for toy giant Mattel, the maker of Barbie dolls, said the researchers had “failed to accurately represent the Barbie brand, as well as realistic play experiences”.
He added: “We talk to parents and children every day around the globe and know that there are many positive outputs as a result of the imaginative play and storytelling that Barbie enables.”
Dr Shore said Mattel had recently released a new range of taller, shorter and curvier Barbies.
Prof Tiggemann said most girls had the traditionally skinny dolls but said the new-style Barbies were “a good start”.
Rochelle Montgomery, 26, a part-time medical receptionist from Beaconsfield, said she disagreed with the findings.
“My daughter, Euphemia, has a million and one Barbies, and I think it brings out her creative side,” she said.
“I don’t have any concerns whatsoever and you can see her playing with them, and she makes up a lot of conversations and stories.”
Ms Montgomery said she thought girls’ views about being thin came from the adults around them.
Prof Tiggemann said that parents did have a role to play and “should also do their best not to comment on their daughter’s looks, but to praise her character or ability to be kind”.
It is believed about 80 per cent of Aussie girls aged six to nine own a Barbie.
Euphemia, 4, loves her classic Barbies. Picture: MARK STEWART