Undercover Mom in Stardoll, Part 2: The skinny on virtual paperdolls
By Sharon Duke Estroff
case thereís any doubt over which is more fun - trying on real clothes
at Bloomingdales or trying on virtual clothes at a Stardoll department
store - there shouldnít be. The latter is the hands-down winner.
survived recent bathing suit shopping trauma, I found dressing up
MattieLu, my Stardoll avatar, to be a little slice of shopping heaven.
Every frock I slipped onto my virtual self accented my many assets. As
far as minimizing my bodily flaws, completely unnecessary, as I
apparently havenít any.
When I created MattieLu during my
personal Stardoll design process, I was given the option of shaping her
frame by choosing body size 1, 2, or 3 - one extreme presumably super
skinny and the other more curvaceous. Upper and lower bodies are
modified separately so I could theoretically create an apple (heavier
on top) or pear (heavier below) framed avatar.
I was fleetingly
impressed. Stardollís overriding shopping theme may be shamelessly
materialistic, its retail offerings, more than slightly slutty, but at
least this youth website is cognizant of the importance of building
healthy body image in kids. At least itís doing its part to counteract
the counterproductive message (sent childrenís way by skeletal tween
idols and such) that fame, fortune, and happiness are inversely
correlated with body fat index.
Nevertheless first impressions
can be short lived. Upon alternating my avatars body type number, I
recognized virtually no change whatsoever in her frame. Perhaps that
option isnít right now working, I reasoned.
After much closer
inspection, however, I did notice a very slight puffing and unpuffing
of MattieLuís frame with my ascension and descension of number choice.
(ee screenshots). Still, if this was the extent of body-type variation
advocated by Stardoll, I might as well hibernate for the entirety of
bathing suit season.
Does Stardollís perfectly proportioned
avatars indeed foster unhealthy body image in the young girls who
create them? Does its scant, midriff-baring couture encourage excessive
I think the Stardoll club message boards speak for
themselves. (Stardoll members who cyberswear theyíre at least 13 years
old are allowed to join clubs; each club has its own message board
where members post questions, suggestions, and free associative
ramblings.) A disproportionate number of posts revolve around topics of
physical appearance, weight loss and eating disorders. I came across
several dozen clubs that are exclusively devoted to such subjects (see
screenshot), but I also came upon weight issue posting in presumably
unrelated forums like the ďAnimal LoversĒ club.
are sure to be those who argue that Stardollís pro-emaciation message
is really no different than that of Barbie whoís plagued generations of
girls with an impossibly perfect vision of female physical beauty. But
as a former Barbie junkie and current concerned mom/undercover Stardoll
member, I am going to have to differ on that one. Where there was never
any question that Barbie was an inanimate plastic plaything, Stardoll
essentially eradicates the line between fantasy and reality, immersing
kids in its appearance-obsessed virtual world. As an adult, I
intellectually grasped that the Stardoll experience is a product of
state of the art computer graphics and technology. Still, I found it
difficult to remain impervious to its overriding superficial mindset.
On the upside, sampling life as a size 0 did inspire me to dust off my
treadmill and lay off the Girl Scout cookies for a while.
Sharon Duke Estroff is an award-winning educator and author of "Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? (Random House, 2007). Her parenting articles appear in over 100 publications including Scholastic Parent and Child, Parents, Good Housekeeping, and Woman's Day. She is a parenting blogger for Huffington Post. Sharon is the creator of CHALLENGE ISLAND enrichment classes, camps, and birthday parties which provide imagination-fueled learning adventures to children while fostering their critical and creative thinking skills.