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Ultra-thin dolls affecting body image of girls aged just 5

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The study showed young girls can be strongly influenced by the body shape of the dolls they play with.

The study showed young girls can be strongly influenced by the body shape of the dolls they play with.

The study showed young girls can be strongly influenced by the body shape of the dolls they play with.

A new study involving an Irish toy maker found that girls who play with ultra-thin dolls may end up wanting a thinner body size by the age of five.

The study – conducted by Durham University, Newcastle University and Northumbria University – warned that the dolls, combined with exposure to “thin ideals” in films, on TV and social media, could lead to body dissatisfaction in young girls.

The researchers said this has been shown to be a factor in the development of eating disorders.

The study was carried out with groups of girls aged between five and nine and saw them playing with ultra-thin dolls, either a Barbie or a Monster High Clawdeen doll.

More realistically shaped dolls were also thrown into the mix – either an Irish-made Lottie Doll or a Dora the Explorer doll – while some girls were also given a toy car with which to play.

The research was published in the academic journal Body Image.

Before and after each play session, the girls were asked about their perceived own body size and ideal body size via an interactive computer test using an array of pictures.

Playing with the ultra-thin dolls reduced girls’ ideal body size in the immediate aftermath of play. There was no major change when they subsequently played with the childlike dolls or cars afterwards, showing that the effects cannot be immediately counteracted with other toys.

Lead author Professor Lynda Boothroyd, from Durham University’s Department of Psychology, said: “Body dissatisfaction is a huge problem, particularly amongst young girls.

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“It can have serious consequences for girls’ wellbeing and lead to eating disorders and depression.”

The realistic children’s dolls were Lottie Dolls, which are made and manufactured in Donegal.

Ian Harkin, of the Irish manufacturer, said: “It’s time for manufacturers, retailers, toy associations and toy awards to take positive action and stop promoting dolls with unrealistic body shapes in the market.”

Dr Elizabeth Evans, from Newcastle University’s School of Psychology, said: “This study isn’t intended to make parents feel guilty about what’s in their child’s toy box, and it certainly isn’t trying to suggest that ultra-thin dolls are ‘bad’.

“What our study provides is useful information that parents can take into account when making decisions about toys.”

Even brief periods of time spent playing with a Barbie reduced the girls’ own ideal body size and their perception of what an “ideal adult” should look like.

A Barbie doll is projected to have a body mass index of 16.2. A person with a BMI below 18.5 is considered to be underweight.

In 2016, a new Barbie range was launched, including three optional body shapes and seven skin tones. Manufacturers Mattel said that the updated dolls were designed to appeal to “millennial moms” and ideals of “social justice”.

A Mattel spokesperson said: “While we are unable to validate other studies where we have not seen the methodology, what we can share is Barbie is the most diverse doll line available in the market.

“Beyond what Barbie looks like is the play the brand unlocks.

“In 2020, Cardiff University neuroscientists released a study exploring the positive impact doll-play has on children.”


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