The Barbie doll, long lambasted as a caricature of the modern woman — impossibly thin, vacuous, at times scantily dressed — may be good for girls’ diets.
That was the surprising finding of a science research project conducted over the past year by Rebecca Jellinek, 16, a junior at Kennedy High School in Bellmore. Jellinek questioned 104 local girls, ages 6 to 8, about their food preferences after they played with one of two dolls — Barbie or Tracy Turnblad, the “full-figured” leading character in the movie musical “Hairspray.”
It turns out that playing with Barbie made the girls more inclined to choose healthy foods over salt- or sugar-laden snacks, while playing with Tracy made them more likely to reach for junk food, according to Jellinek’s research paper, “The Effect of Barbie Dolls and Their Wardrobes on Body Dissatisfaction and the Risks of Future Eating Disorders.”
Jellinek was recently named a finalist in the Behavioral Science division at the Long Island Science Congress, an annual competition hosted by the New York State Science Teachers Association since 1950.
She was to be honored at The Wheatley School in Westbury on Thursday, before moving on to the New York State Science Congress at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, in Suffolk County, on June 8. Jellinek is only the fifth Kennedy student in the past 10 years to make the state Science Congress.
The accomplishment is “extremely impressive,” said Kennedy research adviser Barbara Franklin, because Jellinek was a junior competing in a field composed mostly of seniors.
Based on the children’s answers to her questionnaire, she surmised that the Barbie doll lowered their sense of “body esteem” — that is, how comfortable they feel in their own skin. In turn, they ate healthier foods to keep their weight down.
Meanwhile, exposure to Tracy Turnblad did not create pressure to stay thin, so they felt freer to choose unhealthy foods.
Additionally, Jellinek found that how clothed or unclothed the dolls were — some were fully dressed, while others were in bikinis — had no measurable effect on the children’s food preferences.