We are already witnessing an alarming new trend, where advertisers are targeting very young children - and it is no longer with traditional products like toys and board games. Cell phones in the shape of cartoon characters, meant for five year-olds are already on the market; and so are fragrances and make up targeted at pre-teens. Now a website has got into the act - and is raking in dollars as a consequence.
The website is named Miss Bimbo; and was launched in Britain last month. One could call it a high tech version of Barbie dolls. Indeed, it describes itself as "virtual fashion game for girls." Apart from dressing her up, players can give the virtual doll, provocatively designated as a 'bimbo', breast implants and put her on a crash diet. The young kids are given a naked virtual character which they must look after. The virtual characters can be entered into beauty contests, where they earn money so that they can buy clothes and go clubbing. Players are also encouraged to find their bimbos a billionaire boyfriend.
The player who creates "the coolest, richest and most famous bimbo in the whole world," wins. Anything goes to achieve a victory. You are expected to keep your bimbo's weight in check with diet pills; even medication and plastic surgery are fair game. Although the game is free to play, when the contestants run out of virtual cash, they have to send text messages costing $3.00 each, or use PayPal to top up their accounts. In the month since it was launched, the game has attracted nearly 200,000 British players, most of whom are girls aged between nine and 16. A similar site in France has attracted 1.2million players in the past year.
Not surprisingly, parents' groups are horrified that Miss Bimbo has become so popular among pre-teens. They are apprehensive that the website could send the wrong message about eating disorders and plastic surgery to young girls. I agree with them. In a world where "looking good" has become an international obsession, it would be shame if even pre-teens were robbed of their innocence. And what sort of message is being sent out - that it is OK to be 'fake'? It is patently ridiculous.
The game designer, 23-yearold Nicolas Jacquart from London, defends himself by claiming "It is not a bad influence for young children. They learn to take care of their bimbos. The missions and goals are morally sound and teach children about the real world." How altruistic of him. The thought of making profit from impressionable, very young minds probably never occurred to him.
As Bill Hibberd, of the parents' rights group Parentkind, told the Times, the game sends a dangerous message to young girls. He said: "It is one thing if a child recognizes it as a silly and stupid game. But the danger is that a nine-year-old fails to appreciate the irony and sees the Bimbo as a cool role model. Then the game becomes a hazard and a menace." I couldn't have put it better myself.