For over 50 years, Barbie dolls, with their almost nonexistent waists and bleached-blond hair, have helped shape a certain standard of beauty. And although Mattel recently introduced three new body types, it seems that the concentration of thin dolls still on the market might cause girls aged 6 to 8 to have body image issues.
For a new study published in the Sept. 2016 issue of the journal Body Image, three researchers asked 112 girls to play with a thin doll (Barbie) and a full-figured doll (Tracy). They then had another group play with two dolls, one thin and one full-figured, that were of unknown brands.
It was found that "girls tended to desire a body shape more closely aligned to the dolls with which they played." So, the girls who played with the thinner dolls expressed desire for thinner bodies.
The researchers also concluded that the girls, in general, who played with the full-figured dolls "showed less body dissatisfaction."
While the 224 subjects don't necessarily represent the entire population of girls playing with Barbies, a study completed with 162 girls in the U.K. in 2006 yielded similar results that read "early exposure to dolls epitomizing an unrealistically thin body ideal may damage girls' body image." Studies have shown girls as young as 3 can have body image issues — a problem unlikely to be assuaged by the popular rail-thin dolls dominating the toy market.
What the research suggests is that body positivity needs to be taken seriously — whether it be in school or the household — from a young age.