In case you've missed out on the last couple decades of Barbie Research (a field that includes, broadly, Barbie Studies, Barbie Surveys and, perhaps, the biggest boom industry of all, Barbie Think Pieces), Barbies are now generally derided as a toy choice for little girls. They're implausibly proportioned, known for embodying the worst of Western sexism, and up until fairly recently were very, very white.
According to a new study published in the journal Body Image, those perceptions are far from just hand-wringing. In a study of 224 girls ages 6 to 8, even three minutes of playing with super-thin dolls was shown to have a negative effect on the girls' perception of their own bodies, with participants telling researchers immediately after playtime that they wanted to be thinner. Girls who played with a fuller-figured doll did not express the same desire. (Worth noting, probably, that this experiment was conducted before Mattel came out with the new, diverse body-type dolls it debuted earlier this year.)
Nutritionist Kathleen Keller, one author of the study, said it was surprising to find such dramatic results after such a short exposure time -- but as anyone who's idly flipped through a women's magazine in the supermarket checkout line can tell you, it doesn't take more than a couple minutes of gazing at improbably twiggy arms and legs (even if you know they're Photoshopped!) to start feeling comparatively crummy about your average ones. And that's coming from a reasonably well-adjusted adult.
As for kids: It's nice to see science backing up what several generations of girls already know to be true. But it also strikes me that the Barbie research is just one piece of a very weird, relatively unexplored pie. For instance, where are the Ken studies? How many kids grow up thinking adult male humans have vague, plasticky blank swaths of skin where their genitalia should be? Do Transformers make kids feel insecure when they discover their family cars do not, in fact, have the potential to turn into supersize robot fighters at a moment's notice?
In the meantime, as we wait for the doll industry to catch up to data, there's only one safe solution: Insist your children play exclusively with vintage Scrushkins. Their self-esteem should be off the charts in no time.