Don't blame it on Barbie, the issue is body shaming

The issue is body shaming.
The issue is body shaming. Photo: Getty Images

Dolls, Barbie and even Disney Princesses aren't the sole cause of body dissatisfaction in children.

In fact, labelling, whether they are fat or thin, is just as bad – if not worse.

Lily James as Cinderella.
Lily James as Cinderella. 

Barbie especially, has been criticised widely for being too thin, but how does that effect children who are naturally skinny?

Although Barbie is unrealistic, commenting on "thiness" is part of the greater problem.

Psychologist Denise Greenway says, "Whether it's being seen as skinny or not, it's the labelling that's the problem."

"Another problem that skinny girls have is that people accuse them at times of having eating disorders," says Greenway.

For my sister, being naturally thin at school was "traumatic".

She was called anorexic and wore socks under her stockings so people wouldn't see how skinny her ankles were.

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Similarly, Cinderella actress Lily James was criticised for being too thin and her waist labelled "horrific".

"I mean, why do women always get pointed at for their bodies?" James asked.

"When a girl is told she is something, then she begins to see herself through those filters and that's not a pleasurable thing," says Greenway.

"What it's doing is drawing attention to a body that's quite difficult to change, you can make adjustments to your body but you can't actually change its structure," she said.

Though Clinical Psychologist for Treat Yourself Well Sydney Julie Malone will never buy her daughter a Barbie doll, she says thin-shaming can be as damaging as fat-shaming.

"Our society thinks they can make a judgement call on whether you are too thin or too fat, people just have to stop making comments about other people's bodies," says Malone.

A recent study found emotional problems in girls have risen 55 per cent since 2009. Researchers suggest the rise is due to pressure to perform academically and anxiety over body image.

Instead of being up in arms about a doll's waist, the conversation should be about "accepting the diversity of the human body." 

"Just having a really honest transparent conversation about how unrealistic it [Barbie] is and if they are old enough you should start having conversations with them about how everyone is different and everyone comes in a different shapes, different skin and hair colour," says Malone.

Worth billions of dollars, the beauty, fashion and weight-loss industries all work towards making people feel like they aren't good enough and that they need to change.

Instead of wanting to change your body, it should be respected.

"The word respect is really different to love," says Malone. "A lot of people find it hard to love their body without respecting their body."

And, believe it or not this starts at home.

Greenway says parents don't realise how influential they are – especially fathers.

"The first thing that might surprise parents is to be conscious of how you praise your child."

She also advises against comments on physical appearance, but to acknowledge other qualities like kindness "that support healthy personal development."

Besides, if body dissatisfaction was as simple as blaming dolls, "then we could eliminate the problem, but I think something else would take its place," says Greenway.

"The issue is about body shaming, and shape discrimination," says Malone.

"It goes both ways."