Many dolls represent a very thin or even skinny adult female character, like the most famous of them, Barbie®. Does the morphology of these toys influence the representation of beauty and self-acceptance in the little ones who handle them?

This is what a team made up of British researchers from Durham University, Newcastle University and Northumbria University wanted to determine.

To do this, they proposed to 30 girls aged 5 to 9 to play with a skinny doll (corresponding to a BMI between 10 and 16), a doll representing a realistic child (proportional to the body of a little girl of 7 at age 9 in good health) or with a small car.

Before and after the play session, the researchers asked the children about their perception of their own body and the ideal body using a digital picture-based test. Did they like their bodies? What was the most aesthetic adult body type according to them?

A negative body image in little girls

The result is worrying. Girls who played with the ultra-thin dolls considered the ideal female body to be significantly leaner than girls who played with a car or real-sized doll imagined.

“Playing with ultra-thin dolls, sold in millions of copies each year around the world can have a real negative impact on the body image of little girls”, underlines Professor Lynda Boothroyd, main author of this work.

Especially since these toys are added “to the unrealistic body images shown in films, on television and on social networks”. A conditioning of the representation of the female body which prejudices the acceptance of one’s own body as a girl and a woman.

“A problem to be solved because dissatisfaction with one’s own body has serious consequences for many young girls, including eating disorders and depression,” she concludes.