December 19, 2005

Barbie the Doll We Love to Hate

from The Times,,,2-1939678,00.html

Barbarism Begins with Barbie, the Doll Children Love to Hate
By Alexandra Frean, Social Affairs Correspondent

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.

“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,” 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.

“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,” Dr Nairn said.

She added: “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.”

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.

“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 doesn’t exactly look like it is aimed at four-year-olds,” Dr Nairn added. She and her colleagues Christine Griffin and Patricia Gaya Wicks concluded that, while adults may find a child’s delight in breaking, mutilating and torturing their dolls to be disturbing, from the child’s 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.


  1. I can't say that I remember having thoughts of mutilation in regard to my Barbie. I did bang her head against the hardwood floors ocassionally, does that count?

    Interesting article though. I'd be curious to hear a comparison study with other similar dolls. This one only talks of Barbies so, in a sense, it's a bit manipulated for the headline.

    What was disturbing to me was that four year olds are playing with Barbies. I was probably eight or ten, which even then was inapropriate in terms of relating to. But four? Yikes.

  2. Sarah Lou2:21 PM

    I read this article too.
    As for mutilating Barbie, I never microwaved her but did draw on her and cut her hair to make her 'ugly'. But then I did that to most of my toys - guess I was just a 'bad kid'.

    I can't really remember how old I was, I think maybe seven ut definately not four - that's just crazy!

    Sarah Lou

  3. Hi there!

    Thanks for the story! I have 2 nieces, both of which love(d) their barbies, but coming from my ED background, I was always weary of them playing with them. In fact, I boycotted it altogether, and refused to buy them anything Barbie related.

    Thanks again,

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  5. Anonymous2:26 PM

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  6. Not sure if my last post came through but I wanted to comment on this article. I read the same article earlier and have to say that I was shocked that kids as young as four were even playing with Barbies let alone considering the mutilation.

    I had literally hundreds of Barbies and Sindys as a child. I can't remember ever putting them in the microwave but I did draw on them and cut the hair so in my child mind they became ugly and no longer perfect. I also remember cutting my favourite Barbies hair (tropical Barbie) because my friend always had to have her when we played - I chopped all her hair and pulled her leg off so she wouldn't want her.

    I was probably seven when I played with Barbies, I certainly wasn't four and I never considered putting her in the microwave - I didn't know how to work it!

  7. Hi All,
    My Mom was anti-Barbie and so my sister and I never had them. I do know that we had jockeys for our Breyers Horses and that one time we took one of them apart. More about curiosity than destruction. I'd guess I was 9 or 10 and she was then either 6 or 7. We removed the limbs to see what held them together and also tried to cut off the "skin" to see what was underneath. We then felt badly and had a burial for her in a flower garden....and then felt guilty about the environmental affects and dug her up that night! Just another story about doll destruction :)
    Sarah St.

  8. I have worked with kids for many years and I will say that if a parent came to me and told me that their child was microwaving, torturing, cutting up anything I would look into it further. Most kids don't torture, but how did they define that. My Barbies heads arms and legs would come off, but we just popped them back on. Would they consider that mutilating. Anyone who has had a Barbie knows it comes apart and sometimes it is because of a brother@.

    the words torture and mutilate bother me in this report and I also heard it on the radio and was taken aback. I have worked with kids who torture and mutilate things, but then typically they have an emotional impairment certification.

    curiosity is normal, but I would be very interested in how they defined torture and mutilation.

    I agree with Sarah, I would like to see the same kids studied with different dolls.

    When I heard it on the radio, they made it sound like that was how all girls treated their barbies these days. I have 3 girls and no melted Barbies.


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