Eating Disorders can be driven by impossible idealisations
Recently an American student created a life size equivalent of a Barbie doll as an attempt to explore the impression something such as a toy can have on a child, giving them an unrealistic idealisation of what they want to be like when they grow up. The result was a six foot Barbie that was projected to be attainable for approximately 1 in 100,000 women by the University of South Australia, whereas researchers in Finland propose that the life size Barbie would lack the 17-22% body fat required for women to menstruate.
Galia Slayen used her own experiences with eating disorders and body image, inspiring her to create the life-sized Barbie to promote thought driven discussion, on what children are being exposed to at very young ages. The idea was to generate awareness and coverage of eating disorders and how the seeds of body dismorphia can be inflicted upon children through a variety of forms. Due to this it is essential that parents are aware of the implications of simple things like a Barbie doll.
It is important to emphasise that a children’s toy will only ever be a small piece of the puzzle behind the driving behaviour of eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia. So whilst it is important to be mindful of the body image issues that can be created via toys and the media, what is significantly important, is the parental influence in the development of body image ideals.
A parent with poor body image, overtly communicating issues around weight and looks through dieting and persistent complaining on weight and ‘fatness’, are more likely to pass these unhelpful messages on to their child. In contrast parents can model good behaviour by minimizing comments on appearance of others and complimenting others for good character traits or behaviours instead. This is perhaps the most important aspect to building a healthy body image for a child, as children will invariably be influenced by their parents on a bigger scale than anything else.
This portrayal of the popular children’s toy has allowed numerous sufferers of eating disorders to look back at the childhood triggers that have caused so much pain and suffering for themselves and their loved ones. Whilst Barbie is predominantly a girl’s toy, it should be pointed out that eating disorders are not an illness exclusive to women, with the awareness of men’s eating disorders growing. It is important to confront these disorders early, as they are life threatening if not treated.