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Should we really give girls dolls that teach them what they look like?

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A visit to the nearest toy store in the run up to Christmas is meant to amaze adults and children alike.

But these days, you’re more likely to get a disturbing lesson in what toy companies think modern little girls should be important.

And the deafening message to even our youngest girls seems to be to try and improve their appearance.

Take the FailFix ‘makeover dolls’, intended for girls ages six and up and tipped as one of the most wanted gifts this year. Sold by supermarkets and big toy stores like Smyths for around £20, the 22cm figures come with panicked expressions because their makeup – messy lipstick and mascara – is a ‘flop’ and their hair ‘messed up’.

Tanith Carey claims that dolls reinforce the idea girls need to get ahead in life and also take advantage of harmful social media trends for physical transformation posts. Shown: FailFix dolls

The box explains that the doll foolishly tried to follow a makeup tutorial online and was completely wrong. But help is at hand. Youngsters can clip a mask over the doll’s face that, when removed, reveals perfect cosmetics.

Essentially, the ‘evil’ face is a removable plastic sheet that attaches to the inside of the mask so that both come off for the big ‘now she’s gorgeous’ reveal.

The message I think this is sending to our daughters? If you don’t look your best, you’ll be miserable until you can fix it.

Then from the British company, home of Peppa Pig, the Teletubbies and Postman Pat, The InstaGlam Glo-Up Girls, priced around £12 and £24, comes yet another makeover doll. (A “light up” is social media slang for positive physical transformation; a pun on “growing up” and looking “glowing.”)

The set of five characters look like they just woke up with an eye mask and nightwear, and are now ready for ‘spa play’.

This includes a manicure, applying cosmetics and dressing new clothes that come in small shopping bags.

Just in case there’s any doubt that little girls need lessons from their plastic playmates, the kit includes a face mask for both doll and kid. However, it is hard to imagine how the flawless complexion of such young girls could be improved.

Marketing posts include lines like “A little #GLO tivation is all you need to achieve your goals!” and ‘InstaGlam Glo-up Girls empowers girls to celebrate who they are today – and who they become!’

Research shows that children use dolls to practice the skills they will need later.  Pictured: Glo-Up Girls

Research shows that children use dolls to practice the skills they will need later. Pictured: Glo-Up Girls

But I see little to celebrate. These dolls just reinforce the idea that looks are what a girl needs in life.

They’re also cashing in on a damaging social media trend for physical transformation posts. With dramatic before and after photos. In addition to the hashtag #glowup, these transformations are usually achieved through high-intensity diets, exercise, and beauty treatments.

Such posts have been viewed more than 40 billion times on TikTok, the most popular teen social media platform.

The richest influencer in the world, Kylie Jenner, and reality stars from shows like Love Island are known for their equally dramatic transformations, often thanks to lavish facial fillers. No wonder that the glow-up is an attractive concept for young people.

They reinforce the idea that appearance is what a girl needs in life

Research shows that children use dolls to practice the skills they will need later. But if the first instruction for little girls opening a new toy is to take “before and after pictures” to post on social media, ask what lessons they are learning.

The real makeovers imitating these dolls come at a high cost. Weight-loss ‘quarantine glow-ups’ — encouraged by fitness influencers during lockdown — are one of the factors that contributed to triggering an “eating disorder tsunami,” according to The Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The rising number of teens who think they need to change their appearance has become so worrying that just two months after banning Botox and fillers for under 18s, the government also banned cosmetic surgery ads for this age group last month.

While it’s good news that action is being taken to alleviate the relentless assault on teens’ body image, why aren’t so vigilants being kept so vigilant about the messages given to children at a much earlier stage of development – when their body image is just getting started? to shape?

According to the British Journal of Psychology, half of three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat

According to the British Journal of Psychology, half of three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat

According to the British Journal of Psychology, half of three to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. By age seven, 70 percent of girls want to be thinner. By nine o’clock half have been on a diet.

According to child psychologist Dr Alison McClymont, “Rather than simply offering a doll that little girls may find aesthetically pleasing, these [doll-makers] trying to create a sense of ‘drama’ around not being aesthetically perfect.’

This is a message, she emphasizes, that can be especially damaging when little girls are building their idea of ​​what it means to be a woman.

These dolls take the idea of ​​”beauty should always be your highest goal” and run with it until it “not only beauty is your highest goal, but unaltered or unmade beauty is a failure”.

Some kits include a face mask for the doll – and the owner

“The implicit message is: the world won’t treat you well unless you’re beautiful. Otherwise you will be faced with the threat of ridicule and social exclusion and shame. It encourages negative judgment on those who do not meet these standards.”

Some parents – and even some feminists – argue that these dolls are just beautiful pieces of plastic. Don’t the messages fly over the innocent heads of our daughters?

Sociologist Dr Ashley Morgan, a Cardiff-based academic who studies gender, says: ‘Once we say dolls like this are a problem for girls, we assume girls can’t think for themselves.

“As a kid I loved dolls and I had a Girl’s World head you put makeup on, and I grew up to be a feminist academic. Girls don’t automatically look at dolls and feel they should imitate them.’

It is true that research has shown that the messages parents and peers give to a child are the most powerful of all. But what if the idea that a girl’s body is a never-ending self-improvement project is never questioned at home?

Tanith says all parents want to make their child happy this Christmas with the perfect toy under the tree - but makeover dolls can end up achieving just the opposite

Tanith says all parents want to make their child happy this Christmas with the perfect toy under the tree – but makeover dolls can end up achieving just the opposite

A quick scan of reviews written by parents shows that many feel there is “nothing wrong” with the dolls — praising them as “super cute” and “the perfect toy.”

Ex-teacher Chris Calland, co-author of the books Body Image In The Primary School and Tackling Anxiety In Schools, believes such dolls can only contribute to a growing crisis in children’s body image.

Chris says, “Playing with these dolls reinforces the message that there is a certain way of looking and that girls’ looks have to be modified to be acceptable.”

Nevertheless, Character Options, the UK distributor of Glo-Up Girls, emphasizes that the dolls are about ’empowering, self-confidence and inspiring children to be who they want to be’.

And the creators of the FailFix dolls, Australian company Moose Toys, said in a statement: “The fun is rooted in the fact that the doll is about transforming and experimenting with a failed makeover that happens to everyone – not a flawed person.” .’

But if this is role modeling for children, it is of the most superficial kind, says clinical consultant psychologist Emma Citron.

“Dolls like these encourage kids to get into some sort of grown-up nail polish-and-handbag culture as early as possible. They give the idea that you should strive to be flawless. People may say it’s just a doll, but these kinds of performances are expectations.’

Of course, every parent only wants to make their child happy this Christmas with the perfect toy under the tree.

But when it comes to makeover dolls, they can achieve just the opposite.

Tanith Carey is author of What’s My Child Thinking? Practical Child Psychology for Modern Parents, edited by DK

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