January 15th 2014
A game app in which users perform cosmetic surgery has been removed by Apple and Google from their app stores after widespread condemnation as being sexist, inappropriate for children and giving inappropriate body image aspirations.
Apple has taken Plastic Surgery for Barbie down from the App Store, and Plastic Surgery has been deleted from Google Play.
The free app – labelled as suitable for children as young as nine years – included tasks such as injecting anesthetic, performing scalpel incisions and suctioning out fat with a pump in order to perform surgery on Barbie's different "problem areas." The result is a considerably thinner figure version whch users can compare with the pre-surgery version.
The game's description in the App Store read: "This unfortunate girl has so much extra weight that no diet can help her. In our clinic she can go through a surgery called liposuction that will make her slim and beautiful. We'll need to make small cuts on problem areas and suck out the extra fat. Will you operate her, doctor?" The Google Play description described the patient as "ugly".
Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates told The Guardian that these apps were "incredibly damaging" to the body image aspired to by young girls. "We are calling on iTunes and Google Play to reconsider whether these kind of things are what their platforms want to be offering to children." She added that the use of Barbie's name made the apps "attractive to girls at an incredibly young age", while their "complete focus on women's looks and their bodies" sent a message that said looks were everything.
Ms Bates added: "Access to the internet means these things are much more quickly available at the touch of a finger tip, and children in particular are so media savvy these days. They are on iPads, they are on smartphones. They are able to access these apps. The Barbie plastic surgery app was completely free and could have been downloaded instantly. It is just so sad that we are sending that message to children as young as nine that the ideal body is all that they should be aiming for and that the way to get it is by cutting their bodies apart."
Former President of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) Nigel Mercer said the game was "sexist and disturbing". Mr Mercer said "This app blatantly and shamelessly uses child-friendly brand names to target young, vulnerable children and exposes them to sexist and disturbing rhetoric as the 'game' critiques the body of a cartoon character who does not conform to an unrealistic beauty standard. Even more shockingly, the app then encourages children to utilise surgery – going so far as to include images of syringes, scalpels and liposuction cannulas – to 'fix' the patient, who is described as an 'unfortunate girl'. He added "That Apple or Google could condone this disgraceful app as a game suitable for children is no less than sickening. This app should not be available because it is not 'socially responsible'."
The manufacturer of the Barbie doll and owner of the brand had already said it had nothing to do with the app, which was produced by developer Corina Rodriquez. A statement from Mattel read: "The Barbie name was recently featured in an application that was not sanctioned by Mattel. At Mattel, we take our commitment to children seriously and work hard to ensure there are no unauthorised uses of our brands that may be unsafe or inappropriate for children."