Sunday Herald Sun - - News - SUSIE O’BRIEN

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

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