MOVE over Barbie, a new range of fashion dolls has been launched in Australia to address growing concerns about the impact on young girls of negative body image issues associated with dolls such as Barbie, Bratz and Monster High.
Unlike her now 53-year-old counterpart Barbie, the new Lottie doll has a childlike form, modelled on the average nine-year-old girl's body shape and has practical clothes, realistic hair and healthy outdoor hobbies.
The Lottie range, which is sold online, was the result of 18 months' research and development by British toy company Arklu, including consultation with academics.
The arrival of the 18-centimetre doll, that can stand and whose motto is "Be bold, be brave, be you", has been welcomed by the eating disorder support group, The Butterfly Foundation, as well as psychologists and parents.
The foundation's chief executive, Christine Morgan, said the new doll was an alternative for impressionable children from other highly sexualised dolls.
"It is taking a doll back to what a doll is - it's a cute doll, it's not a sexualised image, it's not an adult image, it's a doll for children, and I see that as being a very positive step forward," she said.
Clinical psychologist Louise Adams from Sydney, who specialises in body image issues and eating disorders, says problems with body image start early in childhood.
"Girls aren't born hating their bodies, we teach them to hate their bodies. [This doll] is a representation that your body is normal,'' she says.
"We don't have an alternative.
''To actually see a little girl portrayed as a doll is fantastic, without sexualisation, without make-up, it's really going to help with body image issues."
Mattel, the manufacturer of Barbie, was unavailable for comment.
Lucie Follett, director and co-founder of Arklu, said Lottie came about after its consumer research revealed parents were concerned about negative body images, and increased perceptions of premature sexualisation among young girls.
Ms Follett says that Lottie's dimensions, with the exception of her head, were devised by leading British academics.
Kristan Dooley, managing director of Women's Forum Australia, an independent women's think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy development on issues affecting women, believes there is a strong market for Lottie in Australia.
''Lottie is a positive alternative to dolls that have unrealistic body shapes, wear highly sexualised clothing or come with tattoos, fangs and other such things that promote unhealthy and unrealistic lifestyles to young children," she said.