Mattel’s Barbie Girls has come under fire for encouraging early sexualisation of girls following the launch of its new social network website.
Critics say the website could potentially put girls at risk of online bullying and promote image and eating disorders.
Launched this week, Barbie Girl’s online virtual community will allow girls as young as six years old to create their own virtual character, design their outfits, choose their “stylish” faces and participate in real-time chat with other registered users.
But critics have expressed concerns that the site will contribute to the trend of young girls maturing too quickly in both a sexual and stylistic way. Dr Aric Sigman, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, thinks youngsters now have access to information that would normally have been filtered by parents ten years ago. “Young girls are being sexualised at a young age and the ‘image’, including the one on websites like this, brings clothing to their attention – making them focus on their own appearance and leading to the onset of early sexualisation,” he says.
Images of dolls like Barbie are linked to eating disorders and image problems, and looking at slim, beautiful figures on the screen could damage girls’ self-image, he adds.
The online site, which can be accessed at www.BarbieGirls.com, features word filters to allow the chatroom to be safeguarded from potential paedophiles and other harmful external visitors. But Chris Cloke, head of the NSPCC Child Protection Group, believes the internal dialogue of the site could turn out to be more harmful. He maintains that online bullying is on the increase and the NSPCC is concerned about the impact it has on children’s lives.
“It is incredibly easy for children to be bullied online by other kids and for embarrassing pictures to be flashed online. It is a real issue that has escalated in the past ten years, and websites like these need to be stringently monitored so children are protected,” he says.
The online site will expand this autumn to more than a dozen countries in five additional languages, including Spanish, French and Italian. Barbie Girls will introduce a portable doll-inspired music player in July, which will retail at £49.99.