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Does Barbie Make Girls Want to Be Thin? The Effect of Experimental Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5- to 8-Year-Old Girls

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The ubiquitous Barbie doll was examined in the present study as a possible cause for young girls' body dissatisfaction. A total of 162 girls, from age 5 to age 8, were exposed to images of either Barbie dolls, Emme dolls (U.S. size 16), or no dolls (baseline control) and then completed assessments of body image. Girls exposed to Barbie reported lower body esteem and greater desire for a thinner body shape than girls in the other exposure conditions. However, this immediate negative impact of Barbie doll was no longer evident in the oldest girls. These findings imply that, even if dolls cease to function as aspirational role models for older girls, early exposure to dolls epitomizing an unrealistically thin body ideal may damage girls' body image, which would contribute to an increased risk of disordered eating and weight cycling.
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Does Barbie Make Girls Want to Be Thin? The Effect of Experimental
Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5- to 8-Year-Old Girls
Helga Dittmar
University of Sussex
Emma Halliwell
University of the West of England
Suzanne Ive
University of Sussex
The ubiquitous Barbie doll was examined in the present study as a possible cause for young girls’ body
dissatisfaction. A total of 162 girls, from age 5 to age 8, were exposed to images of either Barbie dolls,
Emme dolls (U.S. size 16), or no dolls (baseline control) and then completed assessments of body image.
Girls exposed to Barbie reported lower body esteem and greater desire for a thinner body shape than girls
in the other exposure conditions. However, this immediate negative impact of Barbie doll was no longer
evident in the oldest girls. These findings imply that, even if dolls cease to function as aspirational role
models for older girls, early exposure to dolls epitomizing an unrealistically thin body ideal may damage
girls’ body image, which would contribute to an increased risk of disordered eating and weight cycling.
Keywords: body image, young girls, Barbie, actual-ideal figure discrepancies, body esteem
I looked at a Barbie doll when I was 6 and said, ‘This is what I want
to look like.’ I think a lot of little 6-year-old girls or younger even now
are looking at that doll and thinking, ‘I want to be her.’ (model Cindy
Jackson on CBS News, 2004).
Barbie is the cultural icon of female beauty that provides an
“aspirational role model” for young girls (Pedersen & Markee,
1991; Turkel, 1998), and 99% of 3- to 10-year-olds in the United
States own at least one Barbie doll (Rogers, 1999). Yet, Barbie is
so exceptionally thin that her weight and body proportions are not
only unattainable but also unhealthy. The ultrathin female beauty
ideal she embodies has been linked with the extraordinary preva-
lence of negative body image and unhealthy eating patterns among
girls and women (Thompson, Heinberg, Altabe, & Tantleff-Dunn,
1999). For young children, fantasy and play are vital parts of
socialization in which they internalize ideals and values (Sutton-
Smith, 1997), and dolls provide a tangible image of the body that
can be internalized as part of the child’s developing self-concept
and body image (Kuther & McDonald, 2004). Possible negative
effects on young girls’ body image of identifying with dolls like
Barbie have been speculated about but not examined directly.
An exposure experiment was used in the present research to
gauge the immediate psychological impact of Barbie on young
girls’ desired body shape and body esteem. We compared the
effects of exposure to Barbie doll images not only with exposure
to neutral images (which contained no body-relevant cues) but also
with exposure to images of Emme, a new doll based on the
full-figured eponymous American supermodel and endorsed by the
American Dietetic Association for helping to promote a more
positive body image for girls (A. Mendelsohn, 2003). Given the
recent conclusion that “the desire for thinness emerges in girls
around age 6” (Lowes & Tiggemann, 2003, p. 135), a sample of
girls from age 5 to age 8 was selected. They were in Years 1, 2, and
3 of the U.K.’s National Curriculum school structure, and given
that formal schooling starts 1 year earlier than in the United States,
Year 1 is equivalent to U.S. kindergarten, Year 2 to first grade, and
Year 3 to second grade.
This is the first study in which an experimental exposure para-
digm has been used with such young children, thus offering a
methodologically rigorous examination of Barbie as a cause of
girls’ feelings of unhappiness with their bodies and their desire to
be thinner. Three main research questions were addressed: Do
images of Barbie have an immediate negative impact on girls’
body image? Does exposure to images of a doll with more realistic
body proportions result in the same detrimental effects? Is the
impact of exposure to Barbie images age related so that effects
differ depending on school-year group (grade level)?
Barbie as the Embodiment of the Female Sociocultural
Body Ideal
Barbie is the best-selling fashion doll in every major global
market, with worldwide annual sales of about $1.5 billion (Mattel,
2003). This popular doll, launched 47 years ago, is very much
present in every young girl’s life, with 3- to 10-year-olds in the
United States owning eight Barbie dolls on average, and only 1%
not owning any (Rogers, 1999). “Every half-second, somewhere in
Helga Dittmar and Suzanne Ive, Department of Psychology, University
of Sussex, Sussex, United Kingdom; Emma Halliwell, Department of
Psychology, University of the West of England, Bristol, United Kingdom.
We thank all participating schools. We are grateful to Rod Bond for his
advice on data analysis and Robin Banerjee for his input on developmental
processes.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Helga
Dittmar, Social and Health Psychology Research Group, Department of
Psychology, Pevensey Building, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QH,
United Kingdom. E-mail: h.e.dittmar@sussex.ac.uk
CORRECTED SEPTEMBER 27, 2006; SEE LAST PAGE
Developmental Psychology Copyright 2006 by the American Psychological Association
2006, Vol. 42, No. 2, 283–292 0012-1649/06/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0012-1649.42.2.283
283
the world another Barbie is sold” (Schor, 2004, p. 22), with
increasingly younger girls being targeted.
Barbie’s body proportions, as a cultural icon of female beauty,
have received much criticism (e.g., Brownell, 1991), and empirical
studies confirm that her body proportions are unrealistic, unattain-
able, and unhealthy. When fashion dolls, including Barbie, were
compared with the typical fashion model and the Greek ideal of
beauty, standardized bust measurements of fashion dolls showed
that adult women would assume heights of 62 in. (1.88 m) to 75
in. (2.26 m) (Pedersen & Markee, 1991). Using anthropometry (a
branch of anthropology that deals with comparative measurements
of human body parts on the basis of mathematical formulations),
Norton, Olds, Olive, and Dank (1996) were able to scale Barbie’s
proportions to determine how they would be reflected in adult
women’s body size dimensions. After measuring the circumfer-
ence of diverse body sites, deviations were calculated between
Barbie and different groups of U.S. women and expressed as z
scores that represent probabilities of occurrence. Fashion models
were thinner (z ⫽⫺.76) than a cross-section of 18- to 35-year-old
women, and anorexic patients were thinner still (z ⫽⫺1.31), with
fewer than one in five women evidencing their body proportions.
The average z score of Barbie was 4.17, representing a proba-
bility of fewer than 1 in 100,000 women having her body propor-
tions. Z scores were even more extreme for particular body parts,
scientifically emphasizing the sheer unreality of Barbie’s body
proportions. Were Barbie a flesh-and-blood woman, her waist
would be 39% smaller than that of anorexic patients, and her body
weight would be so low that she would not be able to menstruate
(Rintala & Mustajoki, 1992).
Body Dissatisfaction in Girls
Body dissatisfaction, the experience of negative thoughts and
esteem about one’s body, is important to study because it results in
a number of significant consequences, including negative self-
perception, depressed mood, and disordered eating (Grogan, 1999;
Thompson et al., 1999). Most research with children has been
conducted during adolescence and late preadolescence (Ric-
ciardelli & McCabe, 2001; Ricciardelli, McCabe, Holt, &
Finemore, 2003), and there are few studies with very young
children. A recent study on the link between weight status and
self-concept among 5- to 7-year-old girls (Davison & Birch, 2002)
demonstrated that higher weight was related to lower body esteem
and a more negative self-concept but that these links were medi-
ated by social influences: peer teasing and parent criticism. In-
creasing parental pressure was captured in a recent article on the
fear of childhood obesity, leading parents to such extreme mea-
sures as putting babies on diets or hiring personal trainers for
5-year-olds (Bernard, 2004). These findings emphasize not only
the importance of social pressures of thinness but also attitudes
toward weight. Indeed, 6- to 13-year-olds showed evidence of
body dissatisfaction, with all age groups wanting to be thinner
(Gardner, Friedman, & Jackson, 1999). Children from age 4 to age
6 were shown to favor a thin body (Musher-Eizenman, Holub,
Edwards-Leeper, Persson, & Goldstein, 2003), and Cramer and
Steinwert (1998) reported that 4- to 5-year-olds showed an aver-
sion to “chubby” figures, whereas 3-year-olds did not.
This general “antifat” attitude is particularly pronounced in
girls, who show higher levels of body dissatisfaction than boys and
a stronger desire to be thinner (Oliver & Thelen, 1996), which
increases with age: 40% of girls from age 8 to age 9 wanted to be
thinner, compared with 79% of girls from age 11 to age 12
(Maloney, McGuire, & Daniels, 1988). A recent study on 5- to
8-year-old girls concluded that girls’ desire for thinness emerges
around age 6. Using a figure silhouette rating task, Lowes and
Tiggemann (2003) found that, on average, girls as young as 5 years
already desired a thinner body than their current figure but that this
discrepancy became more pronounced in 6- to 8-year-old girls.
Thus, girls’ body dissatisfaction starts to emerge at a very young
age, possibly from 5 years onward.
One of the most established perspectives on the development of
body dissatisfaction is sociocultural theory (Levine & Smolak,
1996; Thompson et al., 1999), which views the mass media and
dolls as powerful transmitters and reinforcers of sociocultural body
ideals (Levine & Harrison, 2004; Pope, Olivardia, Gruber, &
Borowiecki, 1999). The thin beauty ideal for girls is, of course,
present in many aspects of their sociocultural environment (i.e.,
advertising, TV, and peer groups), but dolls like Barbie— because
of their iconic status—are likely to act as salient role models, at
least for very young girls. Sociocultural theory provides a useful
perspective for theorizing the influence of dolls (as an embodiment
of the sociocultural beauty ideal) on girls’ developing body image
when integrated with some underlying processes posited in devel-
opmental theories concerned with social influences on children’s
self-evaluation (e.g., Bandura, 1989; Ruble, 1983).
The Impact of Exposure to Sociocultural Influences on
Girls’ Body Image
A host of correlational and experimental studies demonstrate
that thin, ideal models of beauty, typically used in the mass media
and advertising, lead to increased body dissatisfaction among adult
women (Groesz, Levine, & Murnen, 2002; Levine & Harrison,
2004). Short-term exposure to the thin female ideal was generally
found to worsen girls’ and women’s body image, and a recent
meta-analysis of 25 experimental studies (Groesz et al., 2002)
demonstrated that women felt worse after exposure to thin female
models than other types of images. Thin models have a negative
impact on young women’s body image even if exposure takes
place at low levels of attention (Brown & Dittmar, 2005), and
negative exposure effects are more pronounced among adolescent
girls (Groesz et al., 2002). Recent studies demonstrated that it is
the ultrathinness of ideal models that increases women’s body
dissatisfaction, given that equally attractive models with an aver-
age body size had no negative effect, or even produced a relief
effect of increasing body satisfaction in some women (Dittmar &
Howard, 2004). However, among 11- to 16-year-old girls,
average-size models were found to raise body concerns (Clay,
Vignoles, & Dittmar, 2005).
Body image is highly salient also for preadolescent children’s
self-concept, particularly for girls (Harter, 1999), and sociocultural
icons, such as Barbie dolls, are important because they can be
aspirational role models for young children or even imaginary
companions (Gleason, Sebanc, & Hartup, 2000). A developmental
account of how dolls, such as Barbie, influence girls’ self-concept
and body image should begin by considering them as role models
from a symbolic interactionist perspective (Mead, 1934), through
which the thin beauty ideal signified by Barbie is gradually inter-
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DITTMAR, HALLIWELL, AND IVE
nalized through fantasy and play. The central Meadian concept of
taking the perspective of the other can help explain how material
objects like dolls can function as socialization agents, whose
essential qualities—such as thinness—are desired and eventually
internalized as aspects of one’s ideal self (Dittmar, 1992). Dolls
like Barbie can serve as an imaginary point of view from which to
see one’s own bodily self, through which young girls come to
understand the meaning of beauty and perfection by pretending to
be her dolls, which are embodiments of the cultural ideal of the
female body. Thus, the primary meaning of the term role model for
Mead is a cultural representation that becomes internalized to form
part of the child’s emerging identity. Applied to the concern of the
present article, this process involves different phases of play, in
which young children initially imitate, and identify with, “beauti-
ful” Barbie in a direct, nonreflexive manner but then, gradually,
come to internalize thinness as a salient feature of what it means to
be beautiful. Although engaging with Barbie is only one transmis-
sion route of the ultrathin ideal among many, it is a particularly
salient way in which girls interact with a sociocultural environ-
ment that proclaims thinness as an essential feature not only of
beauty but also of success more generally (Thompson et al., 1999).
Once internalization is completed, and the thinness ideal has
become part of girls’ self-concept, they may become able to take
a more reflexive stance toward Barbie by being able to consider
her from multiple perspectives, including their own younger self.
This may mean that Barbie “has done her work” as a thinness role
model and may therefore no longer act as a direct, negative
influence on girls’ body image. This proposal—that exposure to
Barbie dolls may no longer exert a direct effect on older girls’
body image—is strengthened by considering developmental theo-
ries, which converge in identifying a transition in the relationship
between the sociocultural environment and children’s self-concept
that impacts self-evaluation.
According to Bandura’s social– cognitive theory (e.g., Bandura,
1986, 1989), “in the course of development, the regulation of
behavior shifts from predominantly external sanctions and man-
dates to gradual substitution of self-sanctions and self-direction
grounded in personal standards [italics added]” (Bussey & Ban-
dura, 1999, p. 690). This emphasis on personal standards posits a
greater involvement of the child’s self-concept in evaluative self-
reactions as a key developmental shift. For young girls, the thin
body ideal appears to be an important personal standard that
becomes internalized as part of their developing self-concept, and,
drawing a parallel between overt behavior and children’s thoughts
and feelings regarding their bodies, it would be expected that the
sociocultural environment, as exemplified by thin Barbie dolls,
exerts a direct influence on younger girls so that they would
express a desire to be thinner as a consequence of exposure to
Barbie doll stimuli. In contrast, older girls may no longer react to
Barbie doll stimuli in this direct way because they have already
internalized the thinness ideal as a personal standard, and their
desire to be thin has become more of a function of this internal,
cognitive self-concept structure rather than a reaction to environ-
mental thinness stimuli. Vygotsky’s (e.g., 1991) account of self-
development shifting from the interpersonal to the intrapersonal
plane makes a similar argument. Furthermore, there is evidence
that dramatic changes occur between kindergarten and second
grade in the nature of children’s social comparisons (Ruble, 1983).
For example, whereas first graders’ judgments (of their ability)
were influenced by simple environmental feedback (of success or
failure), second graders’ judgments were affected not only by
direct feedback but also by normative information (about social
standards of ability) (Ruble, Boggiano, Feldman, & Loebl, 1980).
Thus, from around age 7, social comparisons assume a greater
importance for children’s self-evaluation, although young children
are interested in, and do make, social comparisons. This evidence
suggests that second graders’ social comparison processes become
more complex and less direct because of the greater involvement
of the child’s self-concept in their response to sociocultural infor-
mation and its impact on self-evaluation. Putting these specific
arguments together with more general developmental processes
identified by social–cognitive theory in the context of the present
research, it would be expected that younger girls’ response to
thin-bodied dolls like Barbie would be the desire to be thinner
themselves, which should not occur in response to full-bodied
dolls, such as Emme. In contrast, older girls’ (already internalized)
desire to be thin may be unaffected by short-term exposure to
Barbie dolls, which may have ceased to function as an aspirational
role model. This raises the interesting question of how they would
respond to dolls with a full-bodied figure, given that Emme would
clash with their internalized thinness ideal.
Suggestive support for this proposed developmental change in
reactions to Barbie comes from qualitative research, which elicited
10- to 14-year-old U.S. girls’ retrospective accounts of their ex-
periences with Barbie dolls (Kuther & McDonald, 2004). All girls
reported periods of intensive identification when they were very
young, and Barbie’s role as an aspirational role model was high-
lighted, “She is like the perfect person when you are little that
everyone wants to be like” (p. 48). However, this phase of iden-
tification was later supplanted by anger, in which all girls reported
some aggression, “I cut off all of Barbie’s hair and burned the
clothes” (p. 46). Thus, Barbie ceased to function as an aspirational
role model much before the age of 10 years, and some girls voiced
concerns over her negative impact, “I think she is too thin and does
not show the best example for young kids . . . when they [my
friends] were younger, they wanted to be like her because she was
thin. Now, they would die” (p. 48). Thus, identification with
Barbie appears to occur early but is then followed by a distancing
process. Barbie may therefore impact on very young girls’ body
image.
On the basis of the considerations in this and the preceding
sections, two hypotheses were formulated for this exposure exper-
iment. First, we expected that girls’ body image would be affected
negatively by exposure to Barbie doll stimuli, as compared with
exposure to full-bodied Emme dolls and neutral, control stimuli
that were not body related. Second, we hypothesized that this
overall effect would be moderated by the underlying developmen-
tal processes described, such that the negative Barbie exposure
effect would occur for younger girls up to the age of 7 years but
that it may no longer be evident for girls older than 7 years.
The Present Study
To date, there are no experimental exposure studies that assess
the impact of the sociocultural thinness ideal on very young girls,
and we address this research gap in the present article. Such studies
are important because they help to clarify cause– effect relation-
ships. Controlled experimental exposure is best suited to gauging
285
BARBIE AND GIRLS’ BODY IMAGE
the immediate psychological impact of dolls as a possible cause of
girls’ body dissatisfaction. For young girls, Barbie dolls can serve
as ultrathin body ideals, and there is now an attractive doll with a
larger body size, Emme (launched in 2002), that provides an
alternative to Barbie dolls that can be used in an exposure exper-
iment in addition to a control condition without any body-related
stimuli. This new fashion doll is based on the full-figured Amer-
ican supermodel Emme, whose body proportions represent a U.S.
dress size 16, whereas Barbie would represent a U.S. size 2 (ABC
News, 2002). Therefore, the Emme doll presents a realistic body
that is backed by the American Dietetic Association as an aid in
promoting a more positive body image for young girls (A. Men-
delsohn, 2003).
In addition to exposure stimuli, a further methodological issue
for the present study was the selection of outcome measures that
could be used to assess body image in such young girls. The
Revised Body Esteem Scale (R-BES; B. K. Mendelson, White, &
Mendelson, 1996) is an evaluative measure of body image, suit-
able for use with young children. It assesses children’s thoughts
and feelings about their body, including general appearance, be-
liefs about how others evaluate their looks, and also specifically
their weight. B. K. Mendelson et al. (1996) reported good split-half
reliability, r (95) .85, and Gardner et al. (1999) used it with
6-year-old children. In addition, we decided to complement this
evaluative questionnaire measure with pictorial measures of body
size dissatisfaction, on which girls indicate both their actual body
size and their ideal body size. Collins (1991) developed a figure-
rating scale for children from the original version of the Figure
Rating Scale for adults (Stunkard, Sorensen, & Schulsinger, 1983),
which shows a series of seven line drawings of female figures,
ranging from extremely thin to obese. From two lines of young
girls’ figures, girls pick the figure that best reflects their actual
body size and the figure that shows their ideal body size. Then,
from a series of line drawings of adult women, they pick the figure
that best represents their ideal body size when they are an adult.
These pictorial measures have been used successfully with chil-
dren from age 4 to age 6 (Musher-Eizenman et al., 2003), and
Collins (1991) reported good test–retest reliability with 6- to
9-year-old children: actual size (.71), ideal size (.59), and ideal
adult (.55).
The present research assessed effects on girls’ body image in an
experiment in which three exposure conditions were used: Barbie
doll images, Emme doll images, and neutral control images. Girls
were exposed to one set of these stimuli in the form of a picture
book that each girl looked through while being read an appropriate
story. Two comparisons between the three image-exposure condi-
tions are of central interest: first, the effects of exposure to Barbie
dolls compared with other images, and, second, exposure to Emme
dolls compared with neutral stimuli that contain no information
about bodies. On the basis of the developmental processes pro-
posed to underlie girls’ reactions to stimuli epitomizing the thin
sociocultural ideal of female beauty, it was hypothesized that
young girls would report lower body esteem and greater body
shape dissatisfaction—a stronger desire to be thinner—after view-
ing Barbie doll images compared with the Emme doll or neutral
images. We expected that the thinness of Barbie dolls would have
a direct negative impact on girls’ body image, and therefore,
images of Emme dolls should not increase girls’ body dissatisfac-
tion, compared with neutral control images. However, a develop-
mental change was anticipated so that girls older than 7 years may
no longer show this direct negative effect because they no longer
see Barbie dolls as aspirational role models and because they are
likely to react to sociocultural beauty stimuli through a more
reflective process, having already internalized the thinness ideal as
a cognitive structure that forms part of their self-concept. These
hypotheses can be summarized in the form of a single model (see
Figure 1), which can be tested through multisample structural
equation modeling (SEM), with the three year groups constituting
different samples.
Method
Participants
The final sample consisted of 162 girls, from age 5 to age 8, from six
primary schools in the East Sussex county of Southern England. The
schools’ catchment areas were predominantly White (over 90%) and mid-
dle class. The girls were in classes according to U.K. National Curriculum
Year Groups 1, 2, and 3, which are equivalent to U.S. kindergarten,
Grade 1, and Grade 2 levels. Data collection took place mostly during
February 2004, and given the schools’ admission cutoff date of children
having their birthday on or after September 1, girls were from age 5
1
2
to age 6
1
2
(n 57) in Year 1, from age 6
1
2
to age 7
1
2
(n 49) in Year
2, and from age 7
1
2
to age 8
1
2
(n 56) in Year 3.
1
In each year group,
roughly one third of the girls were in the Barbie doll-exposure condi-
tion, Emme doll-exposure condition, and control condition (Year 1: n
17, n 20, n 20; Year 2: n 18, n 16, n 15; Year 3: n 20,
n 19, n 17).
Stimulus Materials and Measures
In order to expose girls to different images—of Barbie dolls, Emme
dolls, or neutral (control) images—three different types of picture books
were created. The images were selected so that they would fit with the
central themes of a story that was written to be read aloud so that the girls
would have a plausible reason for looking at the images for a reasonable
length of time (a more detailed description is in the Image stimuli section).
1
Of the Year 1 girls, 31 were between 5
1
2
and 6 years old, and 26 were
between 6 and 6
1
2
years old. In Year 2, 31 were from 6
1
2
to 7 years old,
and 18 were between 7 and 7
1
2
years old. Finally, in Year 3, 33 were from
7
1
2
to 8 years old, and 23 were between 8 and 8
1
2
years old.
Figure 1. Model of the impact of exposure to different dolls on girls’
body image. Dashed lines indicate nonsignificant paths.
286
DITTMAR, HALLIWELL, AND IVE
After exposure to the images in the picture books, body image concerns
were assessed through an evaluative measure of body esteem and pictorial
measures of body shape, from which girls picked figures that represented
their actual body shape, the body shape they ideally desired to be, and their
ideal body shape as an adult woman.
Image stimuli. Six images were selected for each type of picture book
so they would fit with the story about “Mira,” which consisted of six happy
scenes around the themes of shopping for clothes and getting ready to go
to a birthday party. These themes, and accompanying images, were chosen
to make the picture books relevant to girls’ experience and engage their
interest, given Mattel’s (2003) production of at least seven Barbie play sets
that featured a shopping theme, such as “Shop & Style Fashion Barbie.”
Three types of picture books were created in order to expose girls to
different image stimuli in the three conditions. Each picture book contained
six images, laminated and bound, which showed either Barbie dolls, or
Emme dolls, or neutral pictures without any depictions of bodies. The six
images were matched to the six story scenes, as shown below (see Table 1),
and great care was taken to make the images in the different exposure
conditions as equivalent as possible.
Body esteem. In order to keep the questionnaire brief, nine items
were selected from the R-BES (B. K. Mendelson et al., 1996). This
shortened scale measured body esteem through nonspecific items (e.g.,
“I’m pretty happy about the way I look”), items on perceived appear-
ance by others (e.g., “Children my own age like my looks”), and items
that focus specifically on weight (e.g., “I really like what I weigh”).
Given that many of the children, especially the Year 1 group, were in
the early stages of reading, a very simple response format was created
in which girls expressed their agreement or disagreement by picking
from three pictures of smiley faces, with no 1, in between 2, or
yes 3, and circling it:
The body esteem items were embedded in diverse statements about likes
and dislikes for TV programs, sports, and leisure activities (e.g., “I love
watching the Teletubbies,” “Children my own age like Harry Potter”), so
that the focus was not solely on body image.
Internal reliability analysis of the nine body esteem items revealed that
the youngest girls experienced difficulties with three negatively worded
statements (e.g., “Most people have a nicer body than I do” or “Other
people make fun of the way I look”). Removal of these items produced
good internal consistency coefficients, both overall (␣⫽.71) and per year
group—Year 1 (␣⫽.75), Year 2 (␣⫽.64), Year 3 (␣⫽.71)—
comparable to those reported by Davison and Birch (2002) at age 5 (␣⫽
.73) and age 7 (␣⫽.84) for the 24-item version of the original scale.
Responses for the six items were summed to create a total body esteem
score, which ranged from 6 to 18, with higher scores indicating higher
body esteem.
Body shape dissatisfaction. Using the Child Figure Rating Scale (Col-
lins, 1991) as pictorial measures of discrepancies between girls’ actual and
ideal body sizes, Suzanne Ive asked each girl to color in the figure whose
body looks most like her own body now, imagining she is looking in a
mirror (actual body shape). Then, on a second line of the same figures, each
girl was asked to color in the figure that shows the way she wants to look
like the most (ideal body shape). A body shape dissatisfaction score was
computed by subtracting the girl’s ideal from her actual body size. A score
of zero indicates no body shape dissatisfaction, whereas a negative score
signifies that she wants to be thinner, and a positive score indicates that she
wants to be bigger. Finally, a similar series of seven drawings of adult
women was presented, and each girl was asked to color in the figure that
shows the way she would like to look when she is grown up (adult ideal
body shape). A body dissatisfaction score of actual-adult ideal figure
discrepancy was computed in the same way as for the actual-ideal figure
discrepancy.
Procedure
This study was administered during normal school hours within school
buildings, and girls were seen in small groups of no more than three at a
time, each session lasting approximately 15 min. The study was introduced
as one that looked at girls’ likes and dislikes, and the girls were told they
would be looking through the picture book that was placed face down in
front of each of them, while listening to a story read to them about
shopping and going to a birthday party. As described above, the picture
books in each group of girls showed images of either Barbie dolls, Emme
dolls, or no dolls. When the girls were seated and ready, they were asked
to turn the picture book over. The experimenter then read the story aloud,
telling the girls when to turn to the next page so that they were looking at
the particular image that matched each story scene. A number of girls
commented on the nice dresses worn by the dolls, which confirms their
engagement and interest. At the end of the story, the picture books were
collected. Thus, all the girls had the same amount of time to look at
individual images and the picture book as a whole. This procedure, while
tailored to young girls, ensured standardization in their exposure to the
picture books. After the picture book collection, the girls completed the
questionnaire that contained the body image measures. It was emphasized
that this was not a test, so there were no right or wrong answers, and the
answer formats (picking and circling smiley faces; coloring in figures)
Table 1
Story Scenes and Images in Picture Books by Exposure Condition
Scene
Exposure condition
Images of Barbie Images of Emme Control images
“Mira” wakes up, sunny morning Barbie getting dressed by bed Emme in pajamas Sunny meadow with flowers
Shopping for party outfit Barbie in top and jeans Emme in top and jeans Windows of clothes shops
Trying on clothes in shops Barbie in skirt and top Emme in skirt and top Clothes on hangers
New clothes and matching shoes Barbie with trousers, top, and
matching shoes
Emme with trousers, top, and
matching shoes
Collection of shopping bags
Supermarket on way home Barbie in supermarket Emme in different dress
a
Supermarket shelves
Getting ready for party Barbie in long pink dress Emme in long pink dress Colorful balloon collection
a
There was no available image of Emme in a supermarket.
287
BARBIE AND GIRLS’ BODY IMAGE
were explained carefully for each section.
2
Confidentiality was also
stressed, and the girls were asked to answer the questions independently.
Each question was read aloud by the experimenter, and responses were
checked to ensure that they were complete. Finally, girls were thanked,
given a short verbal debriefing, and offered a chance to ask questions or
comment.
After the study was approved by the institutional ethics committee of the
associated local university, head teachers of all participating schools gave
full approval, and written parental consent was obtained for each partici-
pating girl. Verbal consent was also obtained from each girl at the begin-
ning of each session when they were also told that they could leave at any
time should they wish to do so.
Results
We first examined the associations between the evaluative and
pictorial measures
3
of body image, both overall and per year
group. As one would expect, the two pictorial measures showed
positive associations, with correlation coefficients ranging from
.65 to .69 ( p .001), which demonstrates that the extent to which
girls desired a different, usually thinner, body shape was similar,
but not identical, when they were asked about right now and when
they were asked about their ideal body shape as an adult. Neither
of these body shape discrepancies was significantly related to
overall body esteem, the evaluative measure of body image, with
correlation coefficients ranging from .05 to .18 (nonsignificant),
demonstrating that body shape dissatisfaction was independent of
evaluative body dissatisfaction.
Next, we checked for year group differences in body dissatis-
faction through a three-way multivariate analysis of variance
(MANOVA), including trend analysis. The only significant find-
ing was a linear trend tendency for older girls to report more
extreme discrepancies between their actual and ideal body size
(CE ⫽⫺.39; p .07). The means (see bottom of Table 2) indicate
that girls desired a thinner body than they had and that this desire
was more extreme in older girls, with mean differences increasing
from .23 in Year 1 to .63 in Year 2 and reaching .79 in Year
3, which represents almost a full body size on the scale used. Thus,
the wish for a thinner body was more pronounced the higher the
girls’ year group. Cross-sectional data do not allow for direct
developmental inferences, but these findings are consistent with
increasing thin-ideal internalization.
To assess the overall impact of exposure condition on girls’
body image, we analyzed the three dependent variables by using a
3 (exposure condition) 3 (year group) 3 (measure)
MANOVA, with repeated measures on the last factor. The expo-
sure condition factor had been partitioned a priori into two con-
trasts, representing the two comparisons of central interest: The
first contrast compared effects of exposure to Barbie doll images
with exposure to other images (both Emme dolls and neutral), and
the second contrast compared responses to Emme doll images with
neutral images. The neutral, no-dolls control can be viewed as a
baseline condition for girls’ body image because they report how
they feel about their body generally and how different they would
like their ideal body shape to be from their current figure in the
absence of any body- or appearance-related stimuli. Means of the
three body image measures in the three exposure conditions are
shown in Table 2, overall and separately for year group.
At the multivariate level, averaging across the three body image
measures, a significant main effect emerged for the first exposure
contrast, as predicted: Body dissatisfaction was significantly
higher after girls had seen the Barbie doll images, compared with
other images, F(1, 153) 7.53, p .01,
2
.05. The means (see
Table 2) show that body esteem was lower and that body size
dissatisfaction was greater, both in terms of wanting a thinner body
now and a thinner body as an adult woman. In contrast to this
detrimental effect of Barbie doll images, there was no difference in
body dissatisfaction reported by the girls after exposure to Emme
doll compared with neutral images, F(1, 153) 0.99, ns,
2
.00.
Thus, girls can be exposed to dolls with a female body without this
having any effect on their body image. Finally, as expected, the
detrimental effect of Barbie doll exposure on body dissatisfaction
interacted significantly with year group; that is, there were age-
related differences in girls’ responses, F(2, 153) 6.61, p .01,
2
.08. The overall pattern of means appears to suggest that
Barbie doll exposure had a detrimental impact on the two younger
year groups, girls from age 5
1
2
to age 7
1
2
, but not on the oldest
year group of girls, from age 7
1
2
to age 8
1
2
.
These findings provide support for the first hypothesis: that
exposure to Barbie dolls causes an increase in girls’ body dissat-
isfaction and that this negative effect is specific to Barbie and not
observed after exposure to dolls with a body size that resembles
the average U.S. woman. In addition, the findings also demon-
strated that the Barbie doll effect is age related.
In order to examine year group differences in more detail and to
assess exposure effects on specific aspects of body image, we
carried out a multisample SEM, using EQS 6.1 (Bentler, 1995),
2
Girls were told that they could pick any of the figures, and it was made
explicit that this could be the same figure for both actual and ideal.
3
After checking, through a multivariate analysis of variance, that there
were no overall significant differences between the six different schools in
the three dependent variables, all Fs(4, 157) 1.54, ns, data were pooled
for all subsequent analyses.
Table 2
Measures of Girls’ Body Image in Three Exposure Conditions
Exposure condition
Body esteem
Body size dissatisfaction
Actual ideal
figure
Actual adult
ideal
M SD M SD M SD
Barbie dolls (overall) 14.45 3.05 0.85 1.52 1.13 1.26
Year 1 (n 17) 14.12 3.69 0.76 1.56 0.82 1.24
Year 2 (n 18) 13.78 2.96 1.33 1.71 1.78 1.11
Year 3 (n 20) 15.35 2.39 0.50 1.24 0.80 1.24
Emme dolls (overall) 15.62 2.23 0.45 1.84 1.00 1.75
Year 1 (n 20) 16.20 1.88 0.00 1.72 0.85 1.46
Year 2 (n 16) 16.25 1.56 0.44 2.22 0.63 2.22
Year 3 (n 19) 14.47 2.67 0.94 1.58 1.47 1.58
Control (overall) 14.96 2.63 0.31 1.53 0.44 1.00
Year 1 (n 20) 15.10 2.77 0.00 1.75 0.35 0.99
Year 2 (n 15) 14.80 2.51 0.00 1.31 0.27 0.96
Year 3 (n 17) 14.94 2.73 0.94 1.30 0.71 1.05
Overall 15.01 2.69 0.54 1.65 0.86 1.40
Year 1 (n 57) 15.19 2.90 0.23 1.69 0.94 1.64
Year 2 (n 49) 14.90 2.60 0.63 1.84 1.00 1.33
Year 3 (n 56) 14.93 2.57 0.79 1.37 0.86 1.40
288
DITTMAR, HALLIWELL, AND IVE
with the two exposure contrasts—Barbie versus other and Emme
versus control—as predictors of body esteem, actual-ideal body
size discrepancy, and actual-adult ideal body size discrepancy.
Multisample SEM has the triple advantages of being able to model
all interrelationships between variables simultaneously, while si-
multaneously testing a sequential path model for goodness of fit, as
well as offering a tool for assessing sample differences in specific
paths (Bollen & Long, 1993). Thus, we can examine the model
proposed earlier (see Figure 1) in each of the three year groups.
Body esteem was modeled as a latent variable, with the six scale
items as indicators,
4
and the two body size dissatisfaction mea
-
sures were treated as observed variables.
5
Initially, all six possible
paths from exposure to body dissatisfaction were modeled, but two
paths were nonsignificant in all three year groups: the impact of
exposure to Emme doll compared with neutral images on body
esteem and on actual-ideal body size discrepancy. Therefore, these
paths were deleted, supporting the proposal that exposure to Emme
doll images has no impact— either negative or positive— on these
two aspects of girls’ body image.
The resulting SEM model had excellent fit indices,
2
(96)
84.81, ns, comparative fit index (CFI) 1.00, root-mean-square
error of approximation (RMSEA) .00, which demonstrate that
there is no appreciable difference between the model and the actual
associations between variables in the data set. Figure 2 shows the
standardized path coefficients (akin to regression coefficients) for
the resulting models, separately by year group, with dashed lines
indicating nonsignificant paths.
For the youngest year group, girls from age 5
1
2
to age 6
1
2
years
old, the two main findings were that Barbie doll exposure signif-
icantly depresses overall body esteem (␤⫽⫺.29; p .05) and
increases discrepancies between girls’ actual and ideal body size
(␤⫽⫺.21; p .05), such that girls desire more extreme thinness
after seeing Barbie doll images than after seeing other images.
Discrepancies between actual and adult ideal body size were
unaffected (␤⫽⫺.08; ns). Emme doll images had no significant
impact on any body image measure, including actual-adult ideal
body size discrepancy (␤⫽⫺.17; ns).
The pattern of findings was similar for the Year 2 girls, who are
from age 6
1
2
to age 7
1
2
years old, but it was amplified. The
negative effects of Barbie doll images were stronger, both in terms
of decreasing body esteem (␤⫽⫺.41; p .05) and increasing
actual-ideal body size dissatisfaction in the direction of girls want-
ing to be thinner (␤⫽⫺.29; p .05). In addition, there was now
also a significant effect of Barbie exposure on girls’ discrepancies
between their actual body size and their ideal body size as an adult
woman (␤⫽⫺.40; p .01) such that girls desire more extreme
thinness when grown up. As for the younger girls, Emme doll
images had no impact, including actual-adult body size dissatis-
faction (␤⫽⫺.03; ns). Thus, the detrimental impact of Barbie doll
images on girls’ body image was more pronounced at this age and
also included their aspirations for an adult woman’s body size.
For the oldest year group, girls from age 7
1
2
to age 8
1
2
years
old, findings were radically different. Barbie doll images no longer
had any direct negative effect on girls’ body image—all paths to
body dissatisfaction outcomes were nonsignificant (all s .16;
ns). The only significant finding for these girls was a negative
effect of Emme doll images (␤⫽⫺.23; p .05), which increased
the discrepancy between actual body size and ideal adult body size
such that girls desired more extreme thinness when grown up after
seeing the fully-bodied Emme dolls. This very different set of
results is considered further in the Discussion and Conclusion
section.
Inspection of Figure 2 suggests that two effects appear unique
for a particular age group: the negative Barbie effect on actual-
ideal adult body size discrepancy for Year 2 and the negative
Emme effect on ideal adult body size for Year 3. In terms of
commonalities across age groups, the findings in Figure 2 propose
that the negative effects of Barbie doll exposure on body esteem
and actual-ideal body size discrepancy are similar for girls in
4
The error terms between two pairs of items were allowed to covary:
“My weight makes me happy” with both “Children my own age like my
looks” and “I think I have a good body.”
5
The error terms of the two pictorial measures were allowed to covary.
Figure 2. Structural equation models of exposure to different dolls on
girls’ body esteem and desired body shape, separately by year group. For
visual clarity, factor loadings for body esteem items and error terms are not
shown. A: Year 1 (5
1
2
to 6
1
2
years old). B: Year 2 (6
1
2
to 7
1
2
years old).
C: Year 3 (7
1
2
to 8
1
2
years old). Dashed lines indicate nonsignificant paths.
*
p .05, one-tailed.
**
p .01, one-tailed.
289
BARBIE AND GIRLS’ BODY IMAGE
Years 1 and 2 but different for girls in Year 3. Year group
differences can be tested statistically through imposing equality
constraints concerning the strength of particular paths and observ-
ing the effect of the constraints on model fit. A statistically
significant difference in path strength is confirmed when the
equality constraint produces a significant deterioration in model
fit.
There was no difference between girls in Years 1 and 3 in terms
of Barbie doll images not affecting discrepancies between actual
body size and adult ideal because constraining this path to be equal
in Years 1 and 3 did not affect model fit, ⌬␹
2
(1) 1.03, ns.In
contrast, the inclusion of Year 2 in this equality constraint pro-
duced a significant deterioration in model fit, ⌬␹
2
(1) 6.69, p
.01, which confirms a statistically significant difference in path
strength. Thus, this particular negative Barbie effect was year
specific: Only Year 2 girls desired a more extremely thin adult
body after exposure. A similar analysis was carried out for Emme
doll exposure but failed to confirm a unique Year 3 effect,
⌬␹
2
(1) 0.97, ns.
Moving on to commonalities between year groups, there was no
difference in Barbie doll images depressing body esteem in the two
younger groups of girls, ⌬␹
2
(1) 0.11, ns. In contrast, the
inclusion of Year 3 in this equality constraint produced a signifi-
cant deterioration in model fit, ⌬␹
2
(1) 9.96, p .001, which
confirms that the negative Barbie effect on body esteem occurred
for girls in the two younger groups, from age 5
1
2
to age 7
1
2
, but
not for the oldest group, from age 7
1
2
to age 8
1
2
. The same year
group differences were confirmed for actual-ideal body size dis-
crepancies, in which the negative Barbie effect was again similar
in Years 1 and 2, ⌬␹
2
(1) 0.23, ns, but different from Year 3,
⌬␹
2
(1) 6.78, p .01. These findings support the second
hypothesis that exposure to Barbie does have a direct negative
effect on girls’ body dissatisfaction, making them want to be
thinner, but only between the ages of 5
1
2
and 7
1
2
and not in Year
3, when girls are 7
1
2
to 8
1
2
years old.
Discussion and Conclusion
The main findings of this experiment are twofold. First, they
showed that very young girls experience heightened body dissat-
isfaction after exposure to Barbie doll images but not after expo-
sure to Emme doll (or neutral control) images. This demonstrates
that it is not body-related information conveyed by dolls per se that
has a direct impact on young girls’ body image, but by Barbie dolls
specifically, which represent a distortedly thin body ideal. These
ultrathin images not only lowered young girls’ body esteem but
also decreased their satisfaction with their actual body size, mak-
ing them desire a thinner body. This detrimental effect was evident
already for girls from age 5
1
2
to age 6
1
2
but was more pronounced
among 6
1
2
-to7
1
2
-year-olds. Both lowered body esteem and
wanting a thinner body are indicators of body dissatisfaction,
which can lead to serious consequences such as depressed affect
and unhealthy eating behaviors, particularly dieting, which, in
turn, is a precursor of eating disorders (e.g., Grogan, 1999; Ric-
ciardelli & McCabe, 2001; Ricciardelli et al., 2003). Previous
research on girls’ body dissatisfaction has focused on adolescents
or preadolescent children from age 8 onward, but this study high-
lights the need to begin earlier in the quest for body image
disturbance, the onset of which appears to be at a younger age than
previously thought. The present findings suggest that Barbie dolls’
ultrathin body proportions provide an aspirational role model for
very young girls that causes body dissatisfaction. Girls today are
swamped by ultrathin ideals not only in the form of dolls but also
in comics, cartoons, TV, and advertising along with all the asso-
ciated merchandising, but Barbie appears to occupy a strong and
special role in girls’ developing body image (Kuther & McDonald,
2004), so that exposure to images of Barbie doll leads to detri-
mental effects, at least when girls are young enough to identify
with Barbie doll. As argued in the introduction, developmentally,
the influence of Barbie as a sociocultural embodiment of the thin
beauty ideal on very young girls’ self-concept and self-evaluation
appears to be direct and not yet mediated by internalized cognitive
self-concept structures, such as the thinness ideal.
It seems likely that developmental changes in self-processes
(e.g., Bussey & Bandura, 1999; Ruble, 1983; Vygotsky, 1991), in
which responses to sociocultural stimuli become more reflexive
because of the greater involvement of children’s self-concept, can
help explain why exposure to Barbie doll images did not result in
negative effects on the body image of the oldest group of girls,
from age 7
1
2
to age 8
1
2
. It seems likely that there is a sensitive
phase when girls use Barbie dolls as aspirational role models,
which may end around age 7 to age 8 because girls have internal-
ized the thin beauty ideal by then, and their desire to be thinner is
more a reflection of that internalized standard than a direct re-
sponse to environmental stimuli. If this account is accurate, then
concern about Barbie as a powerful socialization agent of an
unhealthy, ultrathin, and unachievable body ideal cannot be dis-
missed easily on the grounds that her influence may be short-lived,
“it’s something they grow out of” (model Cindy Jackson on CBS
News, 2004). Although possibly true at a surface level, the damage
has already been done if it is the case that Barbie is a highly
significant, if not the only, vehicle through which very young girls
internalize an unhealthily thin ideal. Moreover, it also seems likely
that they move on from Barbie dolls to other sociocultural sources
of ideal body information such as magazines or computer games.
For example, in the immensely successful Tomb Raider series
played by older children, Lara Croft’s body proportions are similar
to Barbie’s.
The unanticipated finding that older girls reported a greater
desire to be thin when adults after exposure to Emme dolls (com-
pared with neutral control images) deserves comment because this
suggests that more realistically sized dolls may not only fail to
prevent body dissatisfaction in girls aged over 7 but also have the
undesirable, opposite effect of increasing it. For these older girls,
if they have already internalized the thinness ideal, then the de-
piction of a full body could represent a possible, but feared, future
self (Markus & Nurius, 1986; Ogilvie, 1987; Ogilvie & Clark,
1992). This interpretation, that thinness-internalized girls see full-
bodied Emme as implying a threat that they, too, may end up not
thin when they are older, is supported by the finding that the
negative impact of exposure to Emme dolls manifested itself only
in an increased desire to have a thinner adult body, not a thinner
body right now.
The present study is the first of its kind, and before addressing
its theoretical and applied implications, its limitations need to be
considered, particularly with respect to identifying useful avenues
for future research. First, although the size of the present sample
was a methodological strength, its main findings are generalizable
290
DITTMAR, HALLIWELL, AND IVE
only to sociocultural contexts that are characterized by an extreme
thinness ideal and that market dolls embodying this ideal to very
young girls. However, given the increasing globalization of Bar-
bie, as well as the thinness ideal in the mass media, the present
findings may well generalize beyond Northern America and Eu-
rope. An interesting example is Fiji, a culture with a traditionally
full-bodied female beauty ideal until the arrival of Western mass
media. The New York Times described the introduction of Amer-
ican TV in Fiji as leading to elevated body image concerns with
thinness: “TV trims Fiji girls’ body image.”
6
Second, like most
other experimental exposure studies in this area, the effects of
short-term exposure on body image were investigated in the
present research. However, if negative effects can be demonstrated
after a single exposure to images of Barbie dolls, then repeated
exposure is likely to be more damaging. Future research may wish
to assess whether these effects are stronger when dolls are used as
exposure material, compared with images. Third, although it is
highly probable that virtually all the girls in the present research
own Barbie dolls, it would be informative to know how many they
own and how engaged they are with them. Such data would not
only assess possible individual differences in the significance of
Barbie as an aspirational role model but also help to pinpoint
when, developmentally, she no longer fulfils this function. Fur-
thermore, a factor that may moderate girls’ responses to ideal
sociocultural models, and that should be examined in future re-
search, is their level of body dissatisfaction prior to exposure
because it is likely that girls with high body dissatisfaction would
be more vulnerable to negative exposure effects than girls with low
body dissatisfaction. However, it should be noted that this limita-
tion of the present study probably lessened the likelihood of
finding significant exposure effects, and the fact that the negative
impact of Barbie dolls was nevertheless demonstrated—across
girls whose initial levels of body dissatisfaction varied—adds
further import to the present results. Finally, the data were cross-
sectional, not allowing for direct developmental inferences. How-
ever, the age-related differences in exposure effects found are
consistent with a developmental model in which there is a sensitive
period for girls’ identification with Barbie doll and internalization
of the thin ideal. These issues can be addressed fruitfully in future
research that is longitudinal and that examines thin-ideal internal-
ization directly, given that we found an age-related increase in the
desire for a thinner body, independent of exposure effects.
The present findings support a direct influence phase of dolls as
aspirational role models and therefore have theoretical implica-
tions for understanding how sociocultural influences impact chil-
dren’s self-evaluation and, consequently, their developing self-
concept. The qualitative change in girls’ responses to being
exposed to ultrathin and full-bodied dolls at around age 7 is
consistent with both social– cognitive theory (e.g., Bandura, 1986,
1989) and developmental work on the changing nature of chil-
dren’s social comparisons (e.g., Ruble, 1983), lending further
support to greater involvement of self-concept structures. It also
suggests that internalization of appearance-related standards plays
a central role for self-evaluation and self-esteem, at least for girls.
The present findings also have applied implications for interven-
tion at both the social and individual level. The negative effect of
Barbie dolls on young girls highlights the need for different dolls.
Unfortunately, Barbie has been joined recently by the even more
disturbing “Bratz” dolls, marketed at girls age 6 onward, which
feature not only an unnaturally thin body but also oversized heads
with heavily made-up faces and bee-stung/collagen induced lips.
These dolls highlight the need to encourage dolls such as Emme,
currently only available as a collector’s item, to be mass marketed
to young girls in order to allow for a diversity of doll body types
and more realistic, healthy body ideals for young girls. Health
authorities, educators, and parents, who are concerned about the
increasingly young age of girls developing disordered eating be-
haviors, should question the unhealthy body ideals relentlessly
churned out by toy manufacturers. At the same time, the present
findings also suggest intervention at the level of the individual, that
is, educational work with girls. Present educational programs tend
to target older girls, often during adolescence (e.g., Levine & Niva,
2004), but this research demonstrates the need to target such
programs at much younger girls, using materials (or dolls) appro-
priate for 5- to 7-year-olds. In order to make an attempt at pre-
venting the internalization of an ultrathin ideal before it occurs,
such programs need to make girls aware that the thin beauty ideal
is both unattainable and unhealthy, encourage a more realistic
body ideal, and emphasize nonappearance-related sources of
self-esteem.
We hope that the present findings help emphasize the need for
further longitudinal research on the impact of fashion dolls and
other sociocultural sources of body ideals on girls, both to advance
the understanding of how body image develops as part of the
self-concept generally and how girls’ body dissatisfaction devel-
ops specifically, and to inform early interventions that can help
protect young girls’ body image.
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Received January 5, 2005
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292
DITTMAR, HALLIWELL, AND IVE
Correction to Dittmar, Halliwell, and Ive (2006)
In the article “Does Barbie Make Girls Want to Be Thin? The Effect of Experimental Exposure
to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5- to 8-Year-Old Girls” by Helga Dittmar, Emma
Halliwell, and Suzanne Ive (Developmental Psychology, 2006, Vol. 42, No. 2, 283–292), a
substantive error occurs in the Body shape dissatisfaction section on page 287. The sentence
describing the calculation of body shape dissatisfaction scores from girls’ responses to the Child
Figure Rating Scale should instead read as follows: “A body shape dissatisfaction score was
computed by subtracting the girl’s actual from her ideal body size.”
We are grateful to Sherry Liu for bringing this error to our attention.
... One of the most widely cited studies on the detrimental effects of Barbies by Dittmar and colleagues (2006) tested how viewing images of Barbie versus either a realistically-proportioned doll or no doll affected 5-to 8-year-old girls' body dissatisfaction. Girls who viewed images of Barbie had higher immediate body dissatisfaction than girls in the other two conditions, although this finding was moderated by age such that only younger girls were affected (Dittmar et al., 2006). Anschutz and Engels (2010) attempted to replicate these findings using a similar age group yet with the experimental conditions being actual play (versus viewing images) with Barbie, two other realistically-proportioned dolls, or a neutral Lego toy. ...
... In fact, frequency of playing with Barbies, number of Barbies owned, and enjoyment when playing with Barbies were never significantly associated with drive for thinness, body dissatisfaction, or dieting behaviors. This is in stark contrast to public opinion and prior research (Dittmar et al., 2006;Rice et al., 2016) suggesting that playing with Barbies encourages girls' body dissatisfaction and investment in thinness. ...
... Why is there a disconnect between Barbie doll usage in childhood and later body image problems, despite attention in popular media? It is possible that whatever immediate impact Barbies have on girls' development during childhood (Dittmar et al., 2006) does not last into adulthood. It is also possible that, because Barbies are toys, they are simply viewed as play objects, similar to Legos or ponies. ...
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Introduction: Although Barbies are heavily criticized for their unattainable bodies, research has not thoroughly examined the long-lasting effects of playing with Barbies in childhood on women’s later body image. In the present study, we examined whether the frequency of play with Barbies, number of Barbies owned, enjoyment when playing with Barbies, and age at first play with Barbies were associated with women’s body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, and dieting behaviors. Methods: Female young adults (n=68) who had played with Barbies as children responded to surveys. Results: We found that only age at first play with Barbies in childhood was associated with greater drive for thinness in adulthood; no other Barbie variable was associated with body image. Conclusions: These findings suggest that girls who begin playing with Barbies at a young age may be susceptible to developing a greater internalization of the thin ideal. It is important that girls and parents be aware that Barbies do not represent an ideal body to match. Keywords: Barbie; dolls; disordered eating; drive for thinness
... This is contrasted with the cultural constructs of the self from a Western perspective. The esteem construct represented by Barbie Doll advertisements, for example, implicitly underscore Western marketing persuasion tactics that are designed to shape female consumers' perceptions towards attaining ideal body image through aspirational role models (Dittmar et al., 2006). Portrayal of desirable sexual characteristics are idealised and exemplified in Barbie Doll marketing advertisements. ...
... This suggests that social motives for attaining healthier, fitter bodies help image-conscious Malaysians associate with broader sociocultural aspirations, yet their desire is guided by conservative social norms and values. This concurs with findings by Berger (2017), Hultin and Lundh (2004), Valbuena (2018), and some aspects of Dittmar et al. (2006). Advertisement approaches demonstrate how digital marketing and social media integrates social shifts in consumers' values from materialist to collectivist values, which influences the cultural perspective towards consumption decisions. ...
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... This trend is apparent not only in expected venues, such as in advertisements in men's magazines (Frederick, Fessler & Haselton, 2005), but is also evident in films (Morrison & Halton, 2009), television (Dallesasse & Kluck, 2013), pornography (Leit, Pope & Gray, 2001), music videos (Mulgrew, Volcevski-Kostas & Rendell, 2014), videogames (Sylvia, King & Morse, 2014), and comic books (Avery-Natale, 2013). This trend is also developmental in nature, targeting the youngest of consumers, via increasingly muscular toy action figures (Baghurst et al., 2006), exceeding that of even the largest body-builders (Pope, Olivardia, Borowiecki & Cohane, 1999), suggesting a male correlate to the unattainably thin female ideal perpetuated by Barbie dolls (Dittmar, Halliwell & Ive, 2006). ...
... While there is promise in this area (Diedrichs & Lee, 2011), the overall picture is complex and suggests that the mere presentation of diverse body types might not be sufficient in allowing an individual to reject the more prevalent body ideal. Take the case of Barbie dollsafter 57 years of manufacturing the Barbie dolls which contribute to internalization of the thin-ideal in young girls (Dittmar et al., 2006), the toymaker Mattel released a curvy Barbie, a tall Barbie and a petite Barbie in 2016. While welcomed as a step in the right direction (e.g., Haskins, 2019), empirical studies showed a mixed reaction. ...
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The mass media portrayal of a muscular body type ideal has been increasingly tied to men's body image dissatisfaction. We examined the role of self-determination theory's intrinsic life goals within this body image ideal and its potential as a moderator of this dissatisfaction. We first tested the moderating effect of intrinsic life goals on the link between magazine consumption and body image dissatisfaction via an online questionnaire (Study 1; N = 826), then experimentally manipulated these goals and exposure to images of muscular male models (Study 2; N = 150). A robust protective effect of intrinsic goals on body image satisfaction was observed - the relationship between magazine consumption and body image dissatisfaction was only significant among individuals with a lower level of intrinsic life goal orientation. When participants' intrinsic goals were momentarily heightened, they reported significantly less body image dissatisfaction, compared to those not receiving a strengthening of these goals. The results are the first to find a protective effect of intrinsic life goals on men's body image, and have important implications for intervention.
... But that instant negative impact of Barbie doll was not apparent in the oldest girls. These outcomes implied that, even if dolls stopped functioning as role models for older girls, early contact with dolls exemplifying an impossibly thin body might harm girls' body image which would play a part in a bigger risk of disordered eating and weight cycling (Dittmar et al., 2006). The research by Dittmar et al. (2006) showed how even dolls could influence girls' body image. ...
... These outcomes implied that, even if dolls stopped functioning as role models for older girls, early contact with dolls exemplifying an impossibly thin body might harm girls' body image which would play a part in a bigger risk of disordered eating and weight cycling (Dittmar et al., 2006). The research by Dittmar et al. (2006) showed how even dolls could influence girls' body image. On the basis of above survey of researches it seems that there might be a relation between tendency towards anorexia nervosa of adolescent girls' and drawing of female figures. ...
... A imposição destes padrões da sociedade está inerente ao dia-a-dia das crianças. Vários estudos sugerem que o uso de brinquedos infantis, jogos de computador e a leitura de revistas podem transmitir esta idealização da imagem corporal nas crianças (Dittmar et al., 2006;Duarte et al., 2018;Jeanne, 2010). Para estes autores, alguns destes brinquedos infantis e jogos de computador refletem a divulgação de uma imagem do corpo ideal através do uso de personagens com características corporais difíceis de alcançar (e.g., Batman, Barbie, LaraCroft). ...
... A incapacidade de atingir o corpo ideal terá implicações na autoestima e satisfação corporal, especialmente durante a infância, uma vez que as crianças tendem a percecionar estas figuras como modelos, potenciando sintomatologia depressiva e distorções corporais por não conseguirem atingir tais ideais (Dittmar et al., 2006;Jeanne, 2010). Por outro lado, as revistas e os meios de comunicação social contribuem também para a proliferação do corpo ideal na infância (Kościcka et al., 2016). ...
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... Boneka Barbie yang diciptakan pada tahun 1959 menjadi idola bagi anak-anak pada masanya meskipun memiliki proporsi tubuh yang tidak baik untuk kesehatan. Menurut Dittmer, Halliwell and Ive (2006),karena telah menjadi ikon, boneka seperti Barbie diam-diam telah menjadi panutan, setidaknya bagi para gadis muda. Hal ini dapat dihubungkan dengan fenomena Frozen yang baru-baru ini menjamur di kalangan anak-anak gadis, termasuk anak-anak usia balita. ...
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Western animation movies emerge tremendously as an entertainment that can be one of the alternative way for parents to spend their leisure time with their children. The movies are interesting because of their features which has been created with cheerful and colorful nuance, uncanny animation and interesting story. In Indonesia, Western animation movies commonly are rated as all age although some of them should make any parents worried as their contents often consist of violent and sexual packing. This article tries to uncover the phenomenon of these movies and how they can negatively affect children. It uses literature review as a technique to dig in the problem. The negative effects of animation movies have become a threat for children for some prominent reasons. Western animation movies should be considered as one of entertainment media with its consequences and it is better to observe thoroughly before letting the children watch.
... This result is not surprising, as the Barbie brand advertises their dolls exclusively to girls [44], not only through verbal statements, but also through the usage of the color pink, socially perceived as a gender label [22]. However, it is important to state that playing with Barbie dolls might be damaging to girls' body image [45] by showing unrealistically thin body ideals, and might also exaggerate gendered perceptions of women by the expression of the hyper-femininity of those dolls [46]. Therefore, it might be advisable that even girls should play less with Barbie dolls. ...
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