Barbie's new look: Exploring cognitive body representation among female children and adolescents

PLoS One. 2019 Jun 25;14(6):e0218315. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0218315. eCollection 2019.


The original Barbie doll's unrealistic body shape can negatively affect young girls' body image. Mattel produced new Barbie dolls with "tall", "curvy", and "petite" body types, yet how girls perceive and evaluate the three new Barbie body types remains unknown. This study investigated whether young girls engage in an automatic "self-other matching" process when viewing the different Barbie doll representations. Female children and adolescents (N = 38; Mage = 10; 6-14 years old; SD = 2.24 years) completed a body-part compatibility task to provide an index of how they implicitly relate cognitive representations of their own body to the different doll images. Significant (p < .05) body-part compatibility effects emerged for the original, curvy and petite dolls, but not for the tall Barbie. These findings indicate that girls engage in a self-other body matching process when viewing Barbie, but that the strength of this matching is influenced by the doll's body type. Results provide new evidence on the underlying cognitive mechanisms that occur when girls are exposed to physique-salient toys, and may have implications for young girls' body image development and use of appearance-based social comparisons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Body Image*
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Play and Playthings*
  • Reaction Time
  • Time Factors

Grants and funding

This work was supported by an internal research grant provided to TNW and CMS from the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education at the University of Toronto ( This work was also supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant [435-2017-0439] awarded to TNW and CMS ( and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council grant [RGPIN – 2015 – 06482] awarded to TNW ( CMS holds a Canada Research Chair Tier II in Physical Activity and Mental Health. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.