Barbie has a lot to answer for. As a child I was totally entranced by her cascading ash blonde hair, long legs and pretty pink dresses, so much so that I assumed that when I grew up that’s what I would look like.
Any other possibility didn’t seem worth considering, as my five-year-old self was confident that come the day of my sixteenth birthday I would awake to find my hair had grown seven inches and bleached itself nearly white overnight, with chandelier type ear rings dangling from my ears and a tiara permanently attached to my head (like all real princesses, of course).
Ken would be sat in the corner on my very own pony ready to take me horse riding whilst I slid into my glass slippers and checked to ensure that I wasn’t wearing any underwear (why does Barbie never wear knickers?). You’ve got to dream the dream.
Unfortunately, (or maybe not so), this didn’t come to pass, and just as devastatingly my crotch and armpits didn’t remain as silky smooth as I had anticipated (another shock precipitated by toy manufacturers and cashed in on by the cosmetics industry – bastards). As I got older I came to terms with the fact my legs would never be six feet long, my complexion would never be that clear, and it was unlikely that I’d ever find a boyfriend willing to co-ordinate his shirt with my hair accessories, or who would be as understanding of my lack of a functioning vagina (although Ken was hardly in a position to cast aspersions on anybody’s attributes in that department, was he?)
But, seriously, all things considered, and however latent it may now be, my Barbie doll did foster inaccurate perceptions and expectations of womanhood, and it was only as I matured that I realised that femininity can be expressed in many diverse ways, and was not simply something plastic fantastic that retails at £19.99.
Whereas Barbie fostered a generation of wannabe blonde-haired, big-breasted princesses however, the sexualisation of cartoons, clothes and dolls in the noughties is doing nothing but corrupting young girls, and investing them with insecurities that will remain with them well into adulthood, a recent report conducted across the pond has found.
The study, as reported in the BBC, was completed by the American Psychological Association, and warns that the overexposure of girls to images of a sexual nature from early childhood has detrimental consequences, leading to low self-esteem and underachievement. It has been linked to the onset of depression and eating disorders, and one report claims that it could even contribute to paedophilia. This is concerning, with girls in the UK exposed to the same images, which is particularly poignant in light of last week’s Unicef report that British children are the unhappiest in the developed world.
The dolls estimated to cause the most psychological damage are the Bratz dolls, which, adorned with mini-skirts, feather boas and fishnet stockings, have been outselling the comparatively more demure looking Barbie since their launch six years ago.
It’s concerning that dolls marketed for eight-year-old girls introduce the idea of sexual objectification in such an explicit way, and girls as young as three or four-years-old are also just as susceptible to the pressures of this sexually corruptive form of marketing.
This is just another example of children being the target of excessive advertising and commercialisation, and demonstrates the need for more measures to be introduced to ensure their mental health is not irreconcilably damaged.
The introduction of new dolls, emulating the realistic appearance of women in authentic circumstances, may help to rectify the situation and foster a generation of self-assured, confident young women, but as long as sex sells top marketing moguls are not likely to question the morality of what they are doing. MGA Entertainment, based in California, made £1.6 Billion a year from Bratz in 2004, and so it’s not likely these dolls will be off the shelves anytime soon.
Photo by mohawk, shared under a Creative Commons license