Die, Barbie, die

Research into why girls mutilate America's favorite big-breasted plaything.

By Rebecca Traister

Published December 19, 2005 2:11PM (EST)

Today's biggest "no duh" study is out of Britain, where researchers have found that children like to mutilate their Barbie dolls. That's right, folks, you thought it was just you, but no.

Researchers from the University of Bath, who intended to study the role brands play for 7-to-11-year-olds, were so "taken aback by the rejection, hatred, and violence" exhibited toward the pneumatic blond dolls that they decided to study that instead.

According to the Times of London, "the methods of mutilation [were] varied and creative, ranging from scalping to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving." Apparently, little moppets didn't treat any other toy or brand name with anything close to the level of sadism that they reserved for Barbie.

There are several choice quotes in the Times story, including one from researcher Agnes Nairn, who still sounds a little shocked when she says, "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."

The researchers explored several theoretical motivations for the child-on-Barbie violence, including the proliferation of different-themed Barbies (Geisha Barbie, "Math is hard" Barbie, etc.). The large number of choices, according to Nairn, means that to today's tykes, "Barbie has come to symbolize excess. Barbies are not special; they are disposable, and are thrown away and rejected."

Other possible motivations for the Barbie abuse scandal? Researchers investigated the possibility that "she reminded [girls] of adulthood at a time when they were still clinging to their childhood" or that overweight girls "might be jealous of Barbie for being the girl who had everything, including a tiny waist." But these hypotheses were dismissed in favor of a simpler explanation: "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."

That's right. Just like recycling. Except not as environmentally sound, and secretly way more fun.

Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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