Is there a connection between barbie and a woman’s body image? Since the average American girl between the ages of three and ten owns several Barbie dolls, the effects of Barbie and body image run deeper than just a doll owned by millions of girls. There is a large and growing body of literature that shows the negative impact these toys have on developing children.
The above video was filmed at St. Edmund’s Academy, an independent, preschool in Pittsburgh, PA. The experiement was one to test second graders reaction to a fashion dolls with proportions based on reality.
Research has for years linked women’s exposure to barbie and photos of skinny supermodels with feelings of inadequacy about their own bodies. A 2006 University of Sussex study said that Barbies and similar toys “may damage girls’ body image, which would contribute to an increased risk of disordered eating and weight cycle.”
According to two studies in Pediatrics, the media is not the only influence on the eating habits of today’s youth. Parents may play a more significant role than both the media and peers in the way young children view themselves and their bodies, researchers report.
A study of more than 6,700 children and adolescents found that both boys and girls who said that their fathers were concerned with their weight were more than twice as likely to become constant dieters compared with their peers, one year later. Boys and girls who reported that their mother was constantly dieting were also more likely to become concerned with their own weight and diet frequently, the report indicates.
The weight-related issues of parents are transmitted to their children, therefore it is important that parents remind themselves that they serve as role models and therefore should attempt to adopt the diet and activity patterns they would like their children to emulate.
That justification for Barbie’s outrageous silhouette falls flat with experts in child psychology and female body image. Those pointy feet might be easier to slip into those tight pants, “But those boobs” said Dr. Sharon Lamb, chair of University of Massachusetts Boston’s School of Psychology. “I don’t think Barbie’s breasts were designed to help Barbie’s clothes go easily on.”
And what about the accusations that Barbie’s unrealistic cinches and curves contribute to young girls’ unhealthy body image?
College student Galia Slayen made made a life-size version of Barbie to highlight eating disorders. She was shocked at the result – a freakish woman with pencil-thin legs, breasts that threatened to topple her over, and a body mass index (BMI) that would put her squarely in the anorexia camp.
“If Barbie were an actual woman, she would be 5’9″ tall, have a 39″ bust, an 18″ waist, 33″ hips and a size 3 shoe,” Slayen wrote in the Huffington Post. “She likely would not menstruate… she’d have to walk on all fours due to her proportions.”
Slayen estimates Barbie would weigh 110 pounds and have a BMI of 16.24. She based her numbers on the book Body Wars by Dr. Margo Maine, and readily admits the doll’s head, hands and some other features are not to scale.
“The goal of Barbie is to get just get people’s attention,” Slayen told CBS News. Eating disorders are “very prevalent and not talked about. It’s sensationalized in the media every time a star loses weight, but this is a very internal struggle.”
As many as 10 million Americans are now struggling with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. A recent study found that teens are hit hard – as many as 500,000 have had an eating disorder. People with eating disorders are at high risk for depression, suicide and substance abuse. The condition can lead to sudden death.
“There are so many misconceptions,” says Slayen. “Eating disorders are are not a choice. They are not a thing of vanity. They are disease and they are really serious.”
6-Years Olds And Younger
Nearly half of the 3- to 6-year-old girls in a previous study by University of Central Florida psychology professor Stacey Tantleff-Dunn and doctoral student Sharon Hayes said they worry about being fat. About one-third would change a physical attribute, such as their weight or hair color.
The number of girls worried about being fat at such a young age concerns Tantleff-Dunn because of the potential implications later in life. Studies have shown that young girls worried about their body image are more likely to suffer from eating disorders when they are older.
The media’s portrayal of beauty likely is one of the strongest influences on how they perceive their bodies because children spend so much time watching movies and television, Tantleff-Dunn said.
“The genetic and environmental origins of pregnancy-associated cancers are likely to pre-date the pregnancy but the hormones and growth factors necessary for a baby to develop may accelerate the growth of a tumour,” Roberts said.
Eating disorder experts say prepubescent girls are developing eating disorders as young as 5 and 6 years old. They may be getting their obsession from parents who are preoccupied with their own body images, and media images of skinny pop stars like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, the experts say.
The way we experience the internal state of our body also influences how we perceive our body from the outside, as for example in the mirror, and it may be the biggest predictor of our health.
Children learn (unhealthy) mainstream attitudes towards food and weight at a very young age. The number of children younger than 12 entering the hospital for eating disorders increased 119 percent between 1999 and 2006.
Researchers have shown in the past that women and teens think of themselves in sexually objectified terms, but a new study is the first to identify self-sexualization in young girls. The study, published online July 6 in the journal Sex Roles, also identified factors that protect girls from objectifying themselves.
An entire generation of young girls is being psychologically damaged by the onslaught of marketing tactics surrounding inappropriate “sexy” children’s fashions, toys, music, books and sexualized images in the media, and parents should be very concerned.
A controversial clothing company drew fire from parents after it began marketing padded bikini tops in its latest swimsuit line at abercrombie kids, the company’s shop for boys and girls.
The current generation of young girls and boys are beingpsychologically damaged by the onslaught of inappropriate “sexy” children’s fashions, toys, music, books and sexualized images in the media. It should be an issue of great concern for all parents.
Sexualizing children is not funny and it’s not a joke, and if parents don’t start paying attention to what the American Psychological Association(APA) report found to be the growing trend to sexualize young girls and boys through video games, television shows, movies, music videos, song lyrics, magazines, clothing styles and toys, you’ll find yourself scratching your head wondering what happened to your little prince or princess well before they reach the teen years.
This image below is what Barbie would look like if she were based on the average 19-year-old woman. Artist Nickolay Lamm used 3D printing technology and information from the CDC to create a “normal” Barbie — and the comparison to the doll is truly startling. This comparison proves that the beauty ideals we’re exposed to at a very young age are, for the most part, completely unrealistic.
DISTURBING FACTS ON BODY IMAGE AND EATING DISORDERS
A study showed that women experience an average of 13 negative thoughts about their body each day, while 97% of women admit to having at least one “I hate my body” moment each day.
Only 5% of women naturally have the body type advertisements portray as ideal. (Source: ndsu.edu)
Of 5th to 12th grade girls surveyed: 47% reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures. 69% said that magazine pictures influenced their idea of what the “picture body” looks like. (Source:kidseatwell.org)
The dieting industry generates at least $55.4 billion in revenue every year. (Source: about-face.org)
In a survey of girls aged approximately 14-18: More than 59% of girls were trying to lose weight. In the last 30 days before the survey, over 18% of girls had starved themselves for a day or more to lose weight. 11.3% of girls surveyed had used diet pills and 8.4% had vomited or taken laxatives to lose weight (Source: casacolumbia.org)
One study found that elite athletes experienced much higher rates of eating disorders (20%) than did a female control group (9%). Female athletes in ‘aesthetic sports’ (i.e. gymnastics, ballet, figure skating) have the highest risk for developing eating disorders (Source: olympic.org)
41% of first to third-grade girls want to be thinner, while 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of getting fat. 80% of 10-year-old American girls say they have been on a diet. The number one magic wish for young girls age 11-17 is to be thinner. (Source: missrepresentation.org)
As many as 24 million people suffer from an eating disorder — including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder — in the U.S. alone. (Source:anad.org)
91% of undergraduate women surveyed admitted that they diet. 22% dieted “often” or “always”. (Source: scu.edu)
42% of 1st-3rd grade girls wish they were thinner. 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat. (Source: raderprograms.com)
50% of commercials directed towards women mention physical attractiveness. The average adolescent views over 5,000 advertisements that mention attractiveness annually. (Source: raderprograms.com)
About the Author
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.
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