By BELINDA SCOTT
FASHION dolls have changed their shape dramatically over the past half century.
From sturdy girls with dimpled knees and rounded stomachs in the 1950s and 1960s, they have become anatomically impossible, stick-thin figures with bee-stung lips.
Why has this happened?
And what subconscious effect does this have on the thousands of little girls whose toy boxes are full of the impossibly shaped Barbie dolls and even thinner, tiny-waisted Bratz dolls, with their collagen-implant lips and enormous eyes?
Reidena Brown was one of the first generation of girls to play with Barbie dolls (Barbie arrived on the scene in 1959, but had her biggest impact in the 1970s and 1980s).
She has watched her two daughters, now aged 24 and 14, progress through the doll years to teenage preoccupations.
She says as a child, she was untroubled by worries over body image and so was her older daughter, but her younger daughter is keenly weight-conscious at 14.
"She's freakish about what she eats," Mrs Brown said "If she eats an ice cream, she'll go for a run."
But she attributes this to television models, clothing advertisements, fashions in shops and 'beanpole' shop assistant role models in teenage fashion stores, not to skinny dolls.
But she has noticed the shift in doll fashions, from the 'dignified' clothing that characterised Barbie to the 'funky, way out' clothes that adorn today's Bratz dolls.
Coffs Harbour mother Emma Hazell said her nine-year-old daughter had to get a Bratz doll because all her friends did, 'but then she lost some of the bits so it's not so attractive'.
Bratz dolls have detachable boots, which means a lost shoe is also an anatomical disaster resulting in an amputated leg.
Mrs Hazell said when their daughter was born, she and her husband had made a conscious decision not to 'socialise' her too much, just because of the body image problem.
"That unreal body shape and plastic look is not natural and we didn't want to give her Barbies, but it's difficult because of presents ? her cousin gave her about eight Barbies ? but then she lost interest and I think she donated them to the school fete." Mrs Hazell described the Bratz dolls as 'almost like a caricature', but said the way they were dressed was more of a problem than their shape.
The raunchy, skin-exposing fashions being produced as dollwear for the Bratz doll and its clones have drawn the ire of commentators, including Boston-based media critic and activist Dr Jean Kilbourne, who is visiting Australia from the USA.
Dr Kilbourne said this week that such fashion dolls were helping to make childhood shorter and shorter, by pushing little girls into the fraught world of sexuality before they were ready for it.
Dr Kilbourne has campaigned on issues of media influence for more than two decades.
Now she has turned her spotlight on what she sees as 'the sexualisation of childhood'.
Other sources of images of overt sexuality presented to young children mentioned by Dr Kilbourne were TV music shows, pre-teen magazines, fashion ranges which sexualised young girls and high-profile role models like millionaire teenage fashion designers Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen.
The Olsen twins, also in Australia this week, have run into flak for designing sexy clothes for pre-teens and their eating problems. Mary Kate Olsen is recovering from anorexia.