Have you seen a Barbie doll lately?
No, me neither, until quite recently. I took an afternoon off from SoSensational.co.uk, to see two of my granddaughters, Sadie, five, and Poppy, three. They were holding a tea party for the four they own between them. The four plastic creatures looked less like dolls and more like miniature versions of Times Square hookers.
Their bodies, of course, have been etiolated, distorted versions of the female form since Barbie was first created by Ruth Handler in 1959, but at least when my own daughters played with them 25-plus years ago, Barbie looked fairly wholesome with her princess outfits, air-hostess uniform, tennis gear, and those impossible-to-put-on trousers and little tops.
But the current quartet had big, tousled hair, painted on eye make-up and hot-pink pouty mouths. Their clothes varied from a barely-there mini dress to a plunge-neck top with silver straps, revealing most of this Barbie's plastic breasts, and a matching, crotch-length skirt. Sadie and Poppy had them seated in a circle, giving them tea from little plastic cups, but the dolls looked more like they were ready to glug down Tequila shots and do a line of coke.
And while it is tempting to dismiss the attire and appearance of a Barbie as being of no interest to anyone over the age of 10, we should not succumb to the temptation.
Barbie is the epitome of the impossibly thin, impossibly smooth, impossibly perfect version of the female body that we castigate some glossy magazines for creating through dramatically underweight models and Photoshop, which means Barbie's body has huge potential to contribute to the insecurities girls have about their own, normal bodies.
According to Wikipedia, a standard Barbie doll is 11.5 inches tall, giving a height of 5'9" at 1/6 scale with vital statistics of 36-18-33. At 5'9" tall, and weighing 110 lbs, Barbie would have a BMI of 16.24, which perfectly fits the weight criteria for anorexia. According to research by the University Central Hospital in Helsinki, she would be too thin to menstruate.
And these dolls make overtly sexual - not to say hooker-style - clothing seem desirable. The commentariat has been blaming magazines and clothing manufacturers for the sexualising of little girls, but Barbie must take some of the blame, too.
Little girls do not have to be dressed in Victorian-style smocked frocks,but there is fashion and then there is slapper-style dressing, which is available in abundance on every high street. Girls as young as seven attend "pampering" parties where they are made-up, have their hair blow-dried and their nails painted. And even though we know that, under the make-up, the blow-dried "big" hair and the sexualised clothing, these are innocent little girls, it still sends out worrying signals to the girls themselves and, potentially more dangerous, the wrong messages to predatory adults.
Barbie (and her maker Mattel), has a responsibility to her millions of young consumers. She needs to give herself a makeover. Lose the pout and the smoky eye, get rid of the plunging necklines, the glitter and the micro skirts. Put on a bit of weight. Demonstrate that girls don't have to look like they starve themselves or are gagging for it to be happy and to fit in with their peer groups.