December 19, 2005
Copyright The Times
BARBIE, that plastic icon of girlhood fantasy play, is routinely tortured by children, research has found.
The methods of mutilation are varied and creative, ranging from scalping to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving, according to academics from the University of Bath.
The findings were revealed as part of an in-depth look by psychologists and management academics into the role of brands among 7 to 11-year-old schoolchildren.
The researchers had not intended to focus on Barbie, but they were taken aback by the rejection, hatred and violence she provoked when they asked the children about their feelings for the doll.
Violence and torture against Barbie were repeatedly reported across age, school and gender. No other toy or brand name provoked such a negative response.
Ã¬You might expect little girls to love their Barbie and expect an imaginary love in return. Instead girls feel violence and hatred towards their Barbie,Ã® Agnes Nairn, one of the researchers, said.
One interpretation of this phenomenon is that the children are reacting to the proliferation of different types of the doll, which range from Fashion Barbie to Queen Elizabeth I Barbie and even a Geisha Barbie.
Ã¬The children never talked of one single, special Barbie. The girls almost always talked about having a box full of Barbies. So to them Barbie has come to symbolise excess. Barbies are not special; they are disposable, and are thrown away and rejected,Ã® Dr Nairn said.
She added: Ã¬On a deeper level Barbie has become inanimate. She has lost any individual warmth that she might have possessed if she were perceived as a singular person. This may go some way towards explaining the violence and torture.Ã®
Previous research from the US into Barbie abuse suggested that prepubescent girls destroyed the doll because she reminded them of adulthood at a time when they were still clinging to their childhood, but Dr Nairn found no evidence of this.
She also dismissed the idea that overweight little girls might be jealous of Barbie for being the girl who had everything, including a tiny waist. It was more likely to be a simple reaction against a toy that the children had grown out of, she said.
Ã¬The children we were talking to were aged 7 to 11, whereas the right age for having a Barbie seems now to be 4, even though Barbie doesnÃt exactly look like it is aimed at four-year-olds,Ã® Dr Nairn added. She and her colleagues Christine Griffin and Patricia Gaya Wicks concluded that, while adults may find a childÃs delight in breaking, mutilating and torturing their dolls to be disturbing, from the childÃs point of view they were simply being imaginative in disposing of an excessive commodity, in the same way as one might crush cans for recycling.