Emily Jupp: The body of evidence stacked against our toys

The toys we played with as children may have a bigger effect on us than we think


I recently dip-dyed my hair pink. Just looking at it made me curiously happy, as though the colour itself had some magical, endorphin-inducing property. I felt empowered, and stylish, without really knowing why.

Then one day, I was wearing a gold top and bouncing along with my pink-blonde locks and I caught sight of my reflection in a shop window. A realisation slowly dawned. I looked just like the Sindy doll I owned as a child. She too had pink hair, she too had the gold shirt. She, too, had my expression of vacant optimism. I had unconsciously turned myself into a doll.

Unfortunately, I couldn't  zip my two-tone locks back into my head like a Tressie doll, and had to let the colour slowly wash out (if you look closely, the tufty pink ends, like the regret, still remain). It got me thinking, what other ideas about my image did I learn from those ostensibly innocuous toys?

To help us to start to question their influence,  the government has set up a national body confidence campaign, along with a pack "to help parents educate children about how the media alter images and the impact this can have on self esteem." It explores ideas of the 'perfect body' pushed out to kids by advertising and products, like Barbie and Sindy.

Abi Moore, founder of the PinkStinks campaign against gender segregation in children's toys, said sexualisation and gender distinctions are such a normal part of our upbringing, it's difficult to even question. "Vast swathes of people have accepted all this stuff as normal," she said in an interview in The Guardian,  "and when we started questioning it, we were questioning ourselves as well."

If Barbie were life-size, she would have a bust size of 33 inches, be 18 inches at the waist and have 28 inch hips; proportions that even Marilyn Monroe at her physical peak would struggle to attain (incidentally, her measurements were 36, 22, and 36 inches). Nearly 600 children under the age of 13 were treated in hospital in England last year for an eating disorder.  And a growing body of research says toys like this do in fact have a genuine impact on a child's own concerns about their body.

So it's refreshing news that Barbie's rival, Sindy, will be relaunched with a new image to celebrate her 50th anniversary. The revamped Sindy will no longer have the slim, long limbs and pneumatic bosom that Barbie still proudly possesses. Jerry Reynolds, of Pedigree Toys, that makes the dolls, said "Sindy is the girl-next-door", she will have a rounder face and look more like a 14-year-old than her previous 80s incarnation, who appeared to be in her early twenties. The new Sindy won't have a boyfriend either, choosing to remain defiantly single, even at 50.

She's not a feminist role-model yet, though. Along with eyelash extensions and purple hair, she also comes with a pinny and food mixer. It's a look I hope I won't start to subconsciously mimic any time soon.

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