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"Mattel's doll brand Barbie has been linked with eating disorders amongst girls in psychology studies."

The Impaakt Team

8 min Read Time | January 22nd 2021

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Written by: Théophile Merienne

Company: Mattel
SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being

Feedback from the reviewing team:

"This piece clearly identifies the link between the hugely popular Barbie toy and its impact on the mental health of young girls. A very important topic covered with accurate background and research."

Read the full impact analysis below and ensure you log in or sign-up to make your ratings about the impact the topic in this analysis has on the environment and society.

“Mattel's doll brand Barbie has been linked with eating disorders amongst girls in psychology studies.”

Eating disorders affect 9% of the world population1. In the US, it causes 10,200 deaths each year and costs USD 64.7 Billion (Bn)2. Females are twice as likely to have an eating disorder than males2. Although one major cause of eating disorder comes from heredity factors, cultural pressure leading to low self-esteem and poor body image is also a main causes of the identified gender inequality on that subject3.

Mattel is a major American toy manufacturer, with a reported $5.07 Bn gross sales4. Its star product is the iconic brand of Barbie dolls. Mattel sold 58 million Barbies for total sales of $1.2 Bn in 20195. Barbie is a woman-shaped doll unrealistically thin. She would be 175 cm tall at human proportion, weigh 50 kg, and have a 99 cm bust6. In the US, where 92% of girls between three and 12 years old have a Barbie7, the average height for an adult woman is 162 cm and an average weight 77 kg8. Barbie has a long history of polemics and has been criticized for perpetuating cultural clichés on gender inequality, for example, with dolls saying the pre-programmed phrase "Math class is tough"7. Studies have shown that beauty ideals conveyed by Barbie dolls impact children. Young girls playing with Barbies, compared to other dolls, expressed greater concern on being thin7 and had an altered food intake9;p1.

Subsequent poor brand image led to a sales drop for Mattel, which eventually forced the company to acknowledge the issue and develop a more diverse portfolio of dolls7. In 2019, more than half of the Barbie dolls were diverse10. The brand now offers 174 different dolls, with 35 different skin tones, 94 hairstyles10, and three different sizes, including one "curvy" size7.

Mattel's iconic doll brand, Barbie, impact children negatively on what the 'ideal' woman should be and increases the risk of eating disorders among young women. Faced with an increasing consumer boycott in the past years, the company has engaged a new line of dolls more representative and diverse.


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