Parents attack ‘Bimbo’ Internet role playing game

By Brittany Abeijon

“Miss Bimbo,” an online game that encourages girls as young as nine to create an alter ego that will allow them to explore plastic surgery and extreme dieting in the search for the perfect “bimbo,” was criticized by parents groups and health care experts last month.

The Internet role play game that was launched from France in February has attracted young girls who are told to buy their virtual characters breast enlargement surgery and to keep them “waif thin” with diet pills.

Players keep a constant watch on the weight, wardrobe, wealth and happiness of their character to create “the coolest, richest and most famous bimbo in the world.” Competing against other children, they earn “bimbo dollars” to buy plastic surgery, diet pills, face lifts, lingerie and fashionable nightclub outfits.

“It is very clear that media has an impact on the body image of girls and women and eating disorders,” said Anita Hund, eating disorder specialist at the University Counseling Center.

Research has found that 42 percent of first- to third-grade girls want to be thinner, and 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat, Hund said.

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The rules section of “Miss Bimbo” states that despite players wanting “to keep your bimbo waif thin…every girl needs to eat, every now and again.” The Web site instructions suggest feeding the character to prevent her from dying of starvation.

Hund said this Web site gives girls practice at making weight and body-size changes at a very quick rate, giving them the impression that those changes are easy, long-lasting and possible. But 95 percent of all dieters regain their lost weight in one to five years, she added.

“In other words, diets don’t work,” Hund said. “What does work is a healthy lifestyle that can be maintained that allows flexibility in how and what a person eats.”

As of now, the Web site has more than 450,000 registered “bimbos.”

But regardless of criticism from parents’ groups and health care experts, the Web site states on its opening page that the game will remain available to its players.

Hund said the Web site also gives young girls practice in criticizing what others, and themselves, look like as opposed to helping them learn acceptance for a diversity of body shapes and sizes.

“Web sites promoting extreme diets and reinforcing thinness as the ideal model certainly increase risk for vulnerable individuals,” said Melanie Marklein, a graduate assistant specializing in eating disorders at the Counseling Center.

Marklein said one of the strongest predictors of eating disorders is body dissatisfaction, which is cultivated by Web sites similar to “Miss Bimbo.”

The Web site perpetuates a broader cultural message that appearance is what girls and women are most valued for, which leads young girls to become preoccupied with monitoring their bodies and comparing themselves to unrealistic standards, Marklein said.

“Wanting to fit in and be attractive, young girls are especially vulnerable to media messages that promote a narrow standard of beauty as a means to being liked and approved of,” Marklein said.

Marklein said this only contributes to a culture that is already saturated with sexualized images of girls and women, and this interactive and competitive nature draws in more young girls.

Research shows the earlier these issues develop and the longer they go unaddressed, the harder they are to treat and the more likely they are to continue into adulthood, she said.

“I think (the site) normalizes eating and body image concerns,” Marklein said. “(It makes) it seem to the girls interacting with the site that these are just the typical things every girl and woman cares about and that it’s just the way it is.”

She said she thinks it would be a mistake to assert that such Web sites directly cause eating disorders.

“Certainly, the girls know that the game is not reality,” Marklein said. “It’s yet another place where girls see thinness and attractiveness being rewarded with fame, success, and glamour.”