Lifestyle

Mattel hits back to revive Barbie

Mattel is not taking it lying down any more.

For years, Barbie's maker has been the subject of relentless criticism that the doll's exaggerated and unrealistic proportions are a bad influence on teen girls and women.

The presumption was that these females, in their bid to emulate the buxom figurine, had taken to extreme dieting to be thin.

To add insult to injury, Mattel's latest tie-up with Sports Illustrated magazine's 50th anniversary swimsuit edition was unofficially termed the "unapologetic campaign" - a move seen by industry experts as Mattel's strategy to revive declining sales of the doll.

Said a Mattel spokesman: "As a brand that is always a part of the cultural conversation, Barbie, for the first time, has an active voice in the debate with her unapologetic stance.

"The goal of the campaign is to empower fans to engage and celebrate all that makes them who they are."

Two weeks ago, for the first time ever, Mattel's vice-president of design Kimberly Culmone, 43, defended its product, speaking in an interview with the US media about the doll's 55-year heritage.

She said: "Barbie's body was never designed to be realistic. She was designed for girls to easily dress and undress.

"Girls view the world completely differently than grown-ups do. They don't come at it with the same angles and baggage and all that stuff that we do.

"Clearly, the influences for girls on those types of issues, whether it's body image or anything else... it's peers, mums, parents, it's their social circles."

Local psychologist Dr Vanessa von Auer, clinical director of VA Psychology Center, said that Mattel's take on women's body issues being the result of peer and familial pressure is logical.

She said: "Young children are exceptionally vulnerable to influences from their immediate surroundings.

"Their parents, older siblings or other close family members are an important influencing factor on how the child views himself/herself and how he/she develops because they trust in and value their family's opinions.

"If a well-intentioned parent even makes a comment in passing like 'It must feel great to be the skinniest in your class' or 'Ice-cream is full of calories - better you don't eat it for dinner', it can have lasting impressions on a child about food choices, weight and body image."

MEN ARE THE REASON

Of five women The New Paper contacted who deemed themselves extreme dieters - all are between 1.6m to 1.7m tall and weigh under 48kg - most said that men, and not dolls, were the reason they chose to be thin.

Said lawyer Lorraine Gomez, 28: "I'm on a salad diet for five days a week because having a flat stomach makes my chest look bigger and that gives me a very sexy body.

"I get so much more attention from men when I look like that, as opposed to being chubbier.

"People who blame Barbie dolls for women's body issues are crazy. I have so many dolls from my childhood, including fat ones like my Cabbage Patch dolls. Do you see me wanting to look like them?"

So how can one explain Human Barbie Valeria Lukyanova's obsession with looking like Barbie?

Said Dr Von Auer: "At first glance, Valeria seems to be addicted to attention from others and/or plastic surgery.

"She may be seeking approval or even love from strangers. Although she is trying to achieve this love in an extreme manner, it is only natural to want to feel loved.

"If this statement was made without trying to attract media attention and she truly believes that she can live on air and light alone, then her life may be at stake."

According to Dr von Auer, prolonged starvation will cause the body and its internal organs to shut down.

Mental and emotional changes can include fatigue, depression, irritability and social withdrawal.