David Budge continues his reports from the conference of the American Educational Research Association in Chicago with reports from the United States to the Pacific Rim
She is beautiful, blonde and blue-eyed, and she makes untold millions for her company. But Barbie can be a bad role model for girls, particularly those from ethnic minorities.
Janet Lear, a teacher in San Jose, California, reached this conclusion after discovering that all the Barbie-fixated Mexican-American girls in her elementary school class wanted contact lenses that would turn their eyes blue.
"All of the girls were preoccupied, to varying degrees, with their own bodies and registered considerable frustration ... that they did not measure up to societal ideals," Lear told the AERA.
The revelation prompted Lear and Richard Kitchen, of San Jose State University, to devise a series of lunchtime activities involving Barbies that would challenge some of the 10-year-old girls' views on the ideal female body. They formed a six-girl discussion group and invited them to measure their Barbies' bust, waist, hips, height and length of legs.
"We decided that all measurements would be made in centimetres since the numbers reflected in centimetre calculations would be larger than measurements taken in inches," Lear and Kitchen explained. "The hope was that the larger numbers would more readily amplify the disproportionality of the Barbies' bodies in comparison to humans' bodies."
The girls measured Ms Lear's body, their own bodies and the body of a pregnant member of staff. They also measured their female friends and relatives. Then they compared the totals with the Barbies' measurements. While Barbies' dimensions vary slightly, the dolls' busts and hips are generally almost twice as large as their waists, an incongruity that one of the pupils spotted.
"As we had hoped at the outset, the measurements of the doll motivated reflection among the girls on their conceptions of the ideal female body, " Lear and Kitchen said. "The girls eventually came to a consensus that the Barbies made them feel badly about their own bodies."
But what about the eyes? Lear and Kitchen concede that their study didn't investigate the phenomenon that had triggered it.
They believe that further research should be carried out to establish the proportions of dolls with blue and brown eyes. But they suspect that they already know what the findings would show. . .