Children and adults will find wonder when they visit their local toy shop during the Christmas season.

Today, however, it is more common to find a troubling lesson about the things that toy companies believe modern little girls should be aware of.

The unmistakable message that even the youngest of girls hears is to work on their looks.

Take the FailFix ‘makeover dolls’, aimed at girls as young as six and tipped to be one of the most wanted gifts this year. Sold by supermarkets and major toy retailers like Smyths for about £20, the 22 cm figures come with panicked expressions because their make-up — messy lipstick and mascara — is a ‘flop’ and their hair ‘botched’.

Tanith Carey claims dolls are reinforcing idea girls need looks to get on in life and also cashing in on damaging social media trend for physical transformation posts. Pictured: FailFix dolls

Tanith carey says dolls reinforcing the notion that girls need to look good is a problem. They also profit from toxic social media trends for body transformation. Pictured: FailFix dolls

According to the box, the doll tried following an online tutorial for make-up and ended up doing it completely wrong. There is help. Youngsters can clip a mask over the doll’s face which, when removed, reveals perfect cosmetics.

Essentially, the ‘bad’ face is a removable plastic layer that attaches to the inside of the mask so both come off for the big ‘now she’s gorgeous’ reveal.

This is the message that I think this conveys to my daughters. If you don’t look your best, you will be miserable until you can fix it.

Then from the UK company which is the home of Peppa Pig, the Teletubbies and Postman Pat, comes The InstaGlam Glo-Up Girls, priced around £12 and £24, yet another makeover doll. (A ‘glow up’ is social media slang for a positive physical transformation; a pun on ‘grow up’ and looking ‘glowing’.)

The set of five characters come looking as if they have just woken up in an eye-mask and sleepwear, and are now ready for ‘spa play’.

It involves applying cosmetics, a manicure and changing into new clothing that comes in small shopping bags.

In case there’s any doubt that little girls should be taking lessons from their plastic playmates, the kit includes a sheet face mask for both doll and child. However, it’s difficult to imagine how the flawless complexion of such young girls might be improved on.

Marketing messages include lines such as ‘A little #GLO-tivation is all you need to achieve your goals!’ and ‘InstaGlam Glo-up Girls empowers girls to celebrate who they are today — and who they are becoming!’

Research shows that children use dolls to practise the skills they need in later life. Pictured: Glo-Up Girls

Studies show that dolls are used by children to practice the skills needed for later life. Pictured: Glo-Up Girls 

There is little I can celebrate. The dolls only reinforce the belief that good looks is all a girl has to be successful in life.

The trend of posting photos of physical transformations on social media is also a popular one. They show dramatic before-and-after photos. These transformations, along with the #glowup hashtag are often achieved through intensive diet, exercise, and beauty treatments.

This post has been seen more than 40 million times just on TikTok. TikTok is the top social media platform among teens.

The wealthiest influencer in the world, Kylie Jenner, and reality stars from shows such as Love Island are famous for similarly dramatic transformations — often thanks to copious facial fillers. It’s no wonder that young girls love the idea of a glow-up.

This reinforces the notion that good looks are all a girl should have in order to be successful in life. 

Children use dolls as a way to practice the skills that they will need later in life, according to research. But when the first instruction for little girls opening a new toy is that they should take ‘before and after pictures’ to post on social media, you have to ask what lessons they are learning.

These dolls are expensive because they imitate real life makeovers. Weight-loss ‘quarantine glow-ups’ — encouraged by fitness influencers during lockdown — are one of the factors which have helped trigger a ‘tsunami of eating disorders’, according to The Royal College of Psychiatrists.

It is becoming increasingly common for teenagers to believe that they should change their appearance. In fact, just two months after baning Botox for children under 18, the government banned all cosmetic surgery advertisements for those aged 18 and older.

While it’s good news that action is being taken to relieve the relentless assault on teen body image, why is no such vigilance being applied to the messages given to children at a much earlier stage of development — when their body image is just starting to form?

Half of three to six-year-old girls worry about being fat, according to the British Journal of Psychology

The British Journal of Psychology found that half of the three- and six-year old girls are concerned about becoming fat.

According to British Journal of Psychology, half of girls aged three- to six years old worry about their weight. 75% of girls desire being thinner by the time they turn seven. Half of girls have tried a diet by nine years old.

According to child psychologist Dr Alison McClymont: ‘Rather than simply offering a doll that little girls may find aesthetically appealing, these [doll-makers] are trying to create a sense of “drama” around not being aesthetically perfect.’

It is important to remember that these messages can have a negative impact on little girls’ conceptions of femininity.

These dolls take the idea of “beauty should always be your highest goal” and run with it until it’s “not only is beauty your highest goal, but unmodified or unmade-up beauty is a fail”.

Some kits include a face mask for the doll — and its owner 

‘The implicit messaging is: the world will not treat you well unless you are beautiful. You risk ridicule, social exclusion, and shame. It is encouraging negative judgment towards those who don’t meet these standards.’

Some parents — and even some feminists — argue that these dolls are just pretty pieces of plastic. Don’t the messages fly over our daughters’ innocent heads?

Sociologist Dr Ashley Morgan, a Cardiff-based academic who researches gender, says: ‘As soon as we say these sorts of dolls are a problem for girls, we assume that girls can’t think for themselves.

‘As a child, I was into dolls, and had a Girl’s World head that you applied make-up to, and I grew up to become a feminist academic. Girls do not automatically look at dolls and think they should imitate them.’

Research has shown that children’s peers and parents are more powerful than any other messages. But what if the idea that a girl’s body is a never-ending self-improvement project is never questioned at home?

Tanith says all any parent wants this Christmas is to make their child happy with the perfect toy under the tree - but makeover dolls could end up achieving precisely the opposite

Tanith believes that every parent wishes for a happy Christmas. However, makeover dolls might be just the thing to do the exact opposite.

A quick scan of reviews written by parents shows many feel there’s ‘nothing wrong’ with the dolls —praising them as ‘supercute’ and ‘the perfect toy’.

Ex-teacher Chris Calland, co-author of the books Body Image In The Primary School and Tackling Anxiety In Schools, believes such dolls can only contribute to a growing crisis in children’s body image.

Chris says: ‘Playing with these dolls reinforces the message that there is a particular way to look and that girls’ looks need to be fixed to be acceptable.’

Nevertheless, Character Options, the UK distributor of Glo-Up Girls insists the dolls are about ‘empowerment, confidence, and inspiring children to be who they want to be.’

And the makers of the FailFix dolls, Australian company Moose Toys, said in a statement: ‘The fun is rooted in the fact that the doll is about transforming and experimenting with a failed makeover that happens to everyone — not a flawed person.’

However, if it’s role-modeling for children, Emma Citron, a consultant clinical psychologist, believes that this kind of behavior is superficial.

‘Dolls like these encourage children to enter a sort of adult nail-varnish-and-handbag culture as early as possible. You should strive to be perfect, they show it. People may say it’s just a doll, but these kinds of representations shape expectations.’

Parents want their children to be happy this Christmas.

However, makeover dolls could achieve exactly the opposite.

Tanith Carey is author of What’s My Child Thinking? Practical Child Psychology for Modern Parents is published by DK