Doll That Won't Eat Causes Uproar

The new Nenuco Won't Eat (photo:Famosa)Critics on both sides of the pond are slamming a new baby doll with a strange gimmick: refusing to eat. They say that the doll, called Nenuco Won’t Eat, encourages unhealthy behaviors — possibly even eating disorders — in its young target audience, despite the fact that it won a Best New Toy Award at the U.K. Toy Fair on Tuesday.

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“What are they thinking? It’s irresponsible,” Lynn Grefe, president of the National Eating Disorders Association, based in New York, tells Yahoo Shine. “It seems clear to me they have no clue what eating disorders are, and that they’re not tuned in or well-educated on how life-threatening they can be.” The doll, she adds, “belongs in the garbage.”

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The plastic blue-eyed infant with the pink ribbon on its bald head is just the latest in a series of Nenuco dolls — others dole out kisses, close their eyes for sleep time, sit on a potty, and get runny noses (tiny tissues are included). The defiant Nenuco Won’t Eat shuns food, turning her head away each time a child tries to feed her, an action reportedly enabled by a magnet hidden in the little blue spoon.

Though a U.S. spokesperson for the Spain-based manufacturer, Famosa, tells Yahoo Shine that the doll won’t be sold in this country, it’s already available in various European markets and will be hitting U.K. shelves in February (at a price of about $58). And while eating disorders, to be sure, are more complex than the cause and effect of playing with a certain toy — cultural pressures to be thin, low self-esteem, feelings of no control over life, depression, a history of sexual abuse, and much more can be contributing factors — experts are worried. Many in the U.K. have spoken out against the toy, saying it “sends the wrong message to children” and is “deeply worrying.” A specialist at the U.K. eating disorder organization SWEDA even notes, “Promoting what is basically an anorexic doll seems unhealthy.”

But Famosa, in responding to criticisms through a statement on its website, calls the U.K. press coverage “ungrounded” and stands firmly by its new addition:

“Nenuco is a range of dolls designed by Famosa to recreate real life experiences between mothers and their babies and to foster role play and positive learning…‘Nenuco Won’t Eat’ is based on one such positive experience. In attempting to encourage his or her Nenuco doll to eat, the child learns about healthy eating habits. The end result of this game is that the child clearly understands that his or her doll is mistaken in not wanting to eat, noting that in the end, thanks to his or her help and encouragement, the baby starts to eat properly. Famosa believes that this is the healthy, positive and fundamental learning message promoted by ‘Nenuco Won’t Eat,’ and not any of the other out-of-context messages that have been attributed to it.”
The statement goes on to say that the company’s “dedicated team of toy designers includes a range of specialists such as psychologists and education experts.”

Grefe maintains that the potential damage is worrying, if not exactly clear. “I don’t think it’s going to teach a 4-year-old to have anorexia, but it says that not eating is OK,” she notes. “And who knows what’s then going to go on in the mind of a 4-year-old? It’s inappropriate.”

Eating disorder therapist Dina Zeckhausen, based in Atlanta, tells Yahoo Shine that how the doll’s behavior might affect a child depends on many factors. For some, it will just be a silly toy. For others, it could play into already-laid groundwork, causing food issues. “Stigma about weight begins early — even 4- and 5-year-olds know that calling someone ‘fat’ is the meanest thing you can say,” says Zeckhausen, founder of the Eating Disorders Information Network and author of “Full Mouse, Empty Mouse,” the first children’s book to address eating disorders in kids. She notes that more and more 7- and 8-year-olds are developing eating disorders, and that Nenuco Won't Eat might give some girls the idea to start refusing food, too, just to see what sort of reaction they get from parents, “which can either reinforce it or not."

Bottom line, when it comes to the new Nenuco, Zeckhausen advises, “Parents just need to be aware. If their kid has no food or body issues and things are pretty neutral around food and weight in the family, then it’s probably harmless. Otherwise, it’s probably not a good toy.”

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