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03.31.142:35 PM ET

Barbie Is a Bad Role Model

Five Minutes with the toy narrows girls’ perceived options.

In a new study, little girls were given different toys to play with and then asked whether they thought they could perform various jobs when they grew up. They were also asked whether boys could do the same jobs. After playing with Mr. Potato Head, the girls saw no difference in their future potential. After only five minutes of playing with Barbie, however, the girls predicted that boys could do more jobs than they could. In their explanation, the authors note that Barbie's message for girls is a narrow one. Their work reinforces earlier studies showing that a singular focus on appearance—with the message that women and girls will be judged on how they look, not what they do—can decrease self-esteem and limit girls’ options in the future. It sends a cautionary note to parents about the overt, if unintended, impact of childrens’ toys.