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The Effect of Experimental Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5- to 8-Year-Old Girls Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 5th, 2021

Introduction

The study shows the effect of Barbie dolls on the body image that 5 to 8 years old girls develop. The author believes that Barbie is a social and cultural icon of female beauty. But Barbie’s physical statistics are “unattainable and unhealthy” with too thin and long legs which may be deemed as disproportionate to body weight. The ultra-thin female beauty Barbie endorses has led to negative body images and unhealthy diet patterns among girls and women.

Based on the literature review two hypotheses were drawn: first, exposure to Barbie doll stimuli affected the girls’ body image negatively as compared to the Emma dolls or the pictures of average US women, and second, was this effect of Barbie dolls on body image will make the girls want to be thinner.

Description of the study

The authors conducted an experimental study on girls aged 5 to 8 years to ascertain if Barbie’s body image caused unhappiness with their bodies and their desire to be thinner. 162 girls were considered in the sample. They were exposed to Barbie and Emme dolls and a story through images that had six pictures. The girls’ body esteem was collected through nine brief questions and body shape dissatisfaction was measured by subtracting the girls’ actual body size from what they thought was ideal. And then the girls were shown seven adult women pictures and the girls were asked to color the figure they would like to look like as a grown-up.

The responses were analyzed by using a three-way multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA), including trend analysis. The results showed that older girls wanted a thinner body than younger girls.

The study of the pictures showed that the girls desired a thinner body shape as an ideal body of an adult.

The girls’ exposure to Barbie dolls and their dissatisfaction with their body image but their negative image is not noticed once the exposure is to the average US woman. This proves the first hypothesis, which stated that Barbie dolls will create a negative body image, more than that created by Emme dolls or pictures of US women.

The second hypothesis was tested and found to be true. Thus Barbie dolls made girls want to be thinner. Further, it was found that this was more among girls of age 5.5 to 7.5 years of age and not in girls who are 3 years old or are between 7.5 to 8.5 years.

The primary finding of the study shows that the dissatisfaction with body image among young girls is more in the case of their exposure to Barbie dolls and not so much due to their exposure to Emme dolls. This is due to the highly distorted representation of the body statistics of the dolls which are unrealistic. This detrimental effect was evident mostly among girls from age 5.5 to age 6.5 but was more pronounced among 6.5 to 7.5-year-old girls. Lowered body esteem, as well as a desire for 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. Further, the findings that older girls showed more dissatisfaction with body image after exposure to Emme dolls which the authors argue is due to the girls’ internalization of the thinness ideal and the depiction of a full-body exposed them to their hidden self in the future.

Conclusion

The authors conclude that it shows that the psychological effect of young girls of distorted body image through Barbie or television, cartoons, comics, and advertisements create low body esteem among girls aged between 5 to 8 years. Thus they conclude that lowered body esteem is a phenomenon that starts long before girls reach adolescence. So studying adolescent girls are not enough as the process of low self-esteem begins long before.

References

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Brown, J.D., Halpern, C.H., and L’Engle, K.L. “Mass media as a sexual super peer for early maturing girls”, Journal of Adolescent Health 36, 2005: pp.420–427.

Dittmar, H, Halliwell, E, and Ive, S. “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”, Developmental Psychology, Vol. 42, No. 2, 2006: pp. 283–292.

Cohen, S. “Media Exposure and the Subsequent Effects on Body Dissatisfaction, Disordered Eating, and Drive for Thinness: A Review of the Current Research” Mind Matters: The Wesleyan Journal of Psychology Vol. 1, 2006: pp. 57-71.

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Fredrickson, B. L. Roberts, T.A. Noll, S. M. Quinn D.M. and Twenge, J.M. “That Swimsuit Becomes You: Sex Differences in Self-Objectification, Restrained Eating, and Math Performance” Journal of Personality and Social PsychologyVol. 75, No. 1, 1998: pp.269-284.

Martin, C.K. “Girls, Video Games, and the Traditional Stereotype of Female Characters” Communication 270, 1999.

Peterson, R. and Jun, M. “Eating Disorders and Advertising Effects: an Exploration” Academy of Marketing Studies Journal, Volume 8, Number 1, 2004.

Ward, S. Buck, M. Hofman, B. Tanjic, S. and Whyte D. “Baby You Got Me in the Shape I’m In: Factors Which Determine Body Image” ANZMAC 2000 Visionary Marketing for the 21st Century: Facing the Challenge 2000.

Stice, E. and Whitenton, K. “Risk Factors for Body Dissatisfaction in Adolescent Girls: A Longitudinal Investigation”, Developmental Psychology, Vol. 38, No. 5, 2002: pp. 669–678.

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"The Effect of Experimental Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5- to 8-Year-Old Girls." IvyPanda, 5 Oct. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/the-effect-of-experimental-exposure-to-images-of-dolls-on-the-body-image-of-5-to-8-year-old-girls/.

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IvyPanda. "The Effect of Experimental Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5- to 8-Year-Old Girls." October 5, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-effect-of-experimental-exposure-to-images-of-dolls-on-the-body-image-of-5-to-8-year-old-girls/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "The Effect of Experimental Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5- to 8-Year-Old Girls." October 5, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-effect-of-experimental-exposure-to-images-of-dolls-on-the-body-image-of-5-to-8-year-old-girls/.

References

IvyPanda. (2021) 'The Effect of Experimental Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5- to 8-Year-Old Girls'. 5 October.

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