LONDON – Barbie, beware.
The iconic plastic doll is often mutilated at the hands of young girls, according to research published Monday by British academics.
"The girls we spoke to see Barbie torture as a legitimate play activity, and see the torture as a 'cool' activity," said Agnes Nairn, one of the University of Bath researchers. "The types of mutilation are varied and creative, and range from removing the hair to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving."
Researchers from the university's marketing and psychology departments questioned 100 children about their attitudes to a range of products as part of a study on branding. They found Barbie provoked the strongest reaction, with youngsters reporting "rejection, hatred and violence," Nairn said.
"The meaning of 'Barbie' went beyond an expressed antipathy; actual physical violence and torture towards the doll was repeatedly reported, quite gleefully, across age, school and gender," she said.
While boys often expressed nostalgia and affection toward Action Man — the British equivalent of GI Joe — renouncing Barbie appeared to be a rite of passage for many girls, Nairn said.
"The most readily expressed reason for rejecting Barbie was that she was babyish, and girls saw her as representing their younger childhood out of which they felt they had now grown," she said.
Nairn said many girls saw Barbie as an inanimate object rather than a treasured toy.
"Whilst for an adult the delight the child felt in breaking, mutilating and torturing their dolls is deeply disturbing, from the child's point of view they were simply being imaginative in disposing of an excessive commodity in the same way as one might crush cans for recycling," she said.
Manufacturer Mattel, which sells 94 million Barbies a year worldwide, said the doll remained the "No. 1 fashion doll brand."
Mattel U.K. said that despite the findings of "this very small group of children, we know that there are millions of girls in the U.K. and across the world that love and enjoy playing with Barbie and will continue to do so in the future."