With these fears starting so young, it is not surprising that by the time they reach high school, 11% of students have a diagnosed eating disorder. However, young girls are displaying signs of disordered eating long before they enter high school, with those as young as seven following diet and exercise plans passed around the playground, often before they can even spell “diet” or the foods included in the regimens.
Just one example is a fourth grade student who started to develop a more natural figure after quitting a grueling gymnastic schedule. What started off as cutting out high fat and sugar snack foods developed into a highly restrictive diet over the next six months, which in the end consisted only of salad and was combined with obsessive exercising, resulting in the loss of a quarter of her body weight in just a six week period and clinical signs of starvation.
So what is driving this anxiety around body image that now develops at an increasingly young age? Girls are bombarded with images in the media of ultra slim women and society expects women to be thin.
Even though such a small proportion of women naturally possess this figure, teens and tweens are in pursuit of this unobtainable goal, placing their physical and mental well-being at risk in the process. At a time when some of them should still be playing with toys, they are literally starving themselves to death, but it may be the likes of their Barbie dolls that are triggering their eating disorders.
Barbie as a Dangerous Role Model
If Barbie was transformed into a real-life model she would be 5’9″, have a 36″ chest, 18″ waist, 33″ hips and her percentage body fat would be under that needed for menstruation to occur.
Although Mattel claimed that the bulky elements of Barbie’s clothing gave her a more natural figure, stripped bare this is a very dangerous figure girls are trying to emulate. More worrying still was the Slumber Party Barbie from the 1960s that came complete with scales displaying the permanent value of 110lb and a book entitled “How to lose weight,” which only contained the phrase “Don’t eat”. Barbie remains the most popular doll for girls, so from a very young age this means they are shown an unrealistic image of a woman’s body.
While such dimensions are obviously unachievable, young girls are still trying to attain this figure and it seems that their exposure to Barbie really does drive their desire to be slim, as demonstrated by an article in Developmental Psychology. Researchers found that girls aged 5 to 8 who were shown a Barbie doll were more likely to have lower self-esteem and want to be thin than girls shown a more realistic size 16 doll.
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