When Mark Chenery, father to four year-old Sophia, first set eyes on the Winx Club dolls at his local Myer he was horrified.
“The first thing I noticed were how skinny the dolls legs were – I was really shocked. The dolls looked seriously anorexic.”
Mark admits that he is not a fan of Barbie, but believes that the Winx Club dolls have taken “skinniness” even further.
“I don’t want my impressionable 4-year-old to be exposed to dolls like this,” he says.
Together with campaign group Fair Agenda, Mark has collected over 1300 signatures from concerned parents, early childhood educators and eating disorder specialists who want to see the dolls removed from Myer's shelves.
Mark says that he started the campaign because he wanted to show Myer how many parents were concerned about the impact the “super skinny” dolls could have on their children.
Many of the comments from petitioners relate to body image. But some take this further and link the dolls to anorexia.
“As the mother of a child who has suffered from anorexia for six years I am appalled that Myer would promote this type of product,” says Julie*
“Young girls are so impressionable and this product is reinforcing the message that very thin is beautiful.”
Similarly, Louise* who’s daughter is currently suffering from anorexia says that the dolls are “sick” because they imitate a life threatening eating disorder.
“Eating disorders are being missed because society sees sickness as normal thanks to media obsession with unattainable thinness,” she explains.
Psychological Therapist Annie Gurton thinks that parents are right to be concerned. “There is no doubt that girls who see super skinny dolls at a young age can be profoundly affected,” she says.
“They have an increased risk of disordered eating and weight cycling, and unhealthy obsession about their weight as teenagers, young women and probably through most of their adult years too.”
Annie says that although the link between body image issues and eating disorders may seem dramatic there is credible research that supports it. “Researchers found that girls exposed to the super skinny, unrealistic body shape of Barbie dolls had lower body esteem and greater desire for a thinner body shape than girls not shown the Barbie doll,” she explains.
Crucially, Annie also notes that young children are the most vulnerable to the “Barbie-exposure effect.”
“If young children are shown unrealistic images these are what they internalise and they then struggle to adapt to the reality of their own bodies as they mature,” she explains.
However some parents dismiss these claims and say that like Barbie, the Winx Club dolls are just toys and that their influence can be balanced out with other toys and parental guidance.
“A toy can only be as influential as a parent allows it to be,” says mother of 4 Maria*. “My thirteen year old daughter was given a Winx doll when she was five and it didn't have any influence on her body image because the dolls weren't the only toys she had and her social circle (i.e. family and friends) were bigger influences than a doll.”
Myer spokesperson Amanda Buckley says that “Myer always welcomes its customers’ views” and that Myer has a very limited stock of the Winx Club Dolls. She also notes that the dolls represent fairies and other supernatural beings.
This is a point that s not lost on Mark Chenery. “There is nothing my daughter loves more than dressing up as a fairy. If she could turn into a fairy tomorrow she would,” he says.
“We might see the difference between an imaginary creature and a real person, but I don’t think a four year old would. In some ways fairies are even more aspirational.”