"Miss Bimbo," the controversial online reality game where players create their own fashionistas and socialites, has stopped offering virtual diet pills to keep the characters thin.
The bad news, say specialists who follow the development of girls and teens, is that they are still, well ... bimbos.
Advertisement"Miss Bimbo" is the creation of French software developer Nicholas Jacquart, who started a similar project over a year ago in France, called "Ma bimbo," before moving to London where he launched an English-language version earlier this year.
Jacquart told AFP the French site has 1.2 million subscribers and the English-language one some 400,000, including 117,000 in Britain, 84,000 in the United States and 21,000 in Australia.
A notice on the website said the option of purchasing diet pills for the virtual characters was removed as a result of "surprising media attention" but that "it is the correct action to take".
The game offers a tongue-in-cheek view of the challenges facing girls growing up.
"We would also like to sincerely apologize to our players for the media comparison of Miss Bimbo and Paris Hilton," says a notice on the site.
"We feel that this does a disservice to the players who send their bimbos to university, tea parties or chess tournaments."
Although Miss Bimbo has prompted barbs from feminists and child psychologists, Jacquart said he does not believe it is harmful.
"It's an ironic game about the reality of the world," the 23-year-old from Nantes said in an interview from London.
The site allows users to register for free, but they can purchase credits for clothes and accessories as well as things such as plastic surgery for breast augmentation, all in the hopes of snagging a billionaire boyfriend.
Lisa Machoian, a Boston-based psychotherapist and former Harvard lecturer who specializes in teenage girls, said she is troubled by the game.
"I was very alarmed and appalled because the message is disturbing," said Machoian, who chafes at what she calls "a derogatory term" for women. The term often implies to a female who is focused on fashion and looks, but is deemed to be short on brains.
Machoian said it was positive to take diet pills off the site, but that the rest of the site can be just as damaging to girls.
"This is actively promoting being a bimbo, it's not promoting a girl becoming successful or getting educated ... if girls begin to compare themselves to celebrities or 'bimbos' they become very focused on looks, and they can start having eating disorders and low self-esteem."
Addie Swartz, who heads US-based educational software firm Beacon Street Girls, said Miss Bimbo goes beyond the experience of Barbie dolls and other virtual reality websites for children.
"It sets back women by 50 to 100 years," Swartz said.
Although girls have long played with dolls, she said it is more worrisome when girls create and identify with a virtual reality character.
"If you are naming your persona and caring for your avatar, they are an extension of yourself, and that is far more troubling than playing with a doll," she said.
She said the site appears to focus on "bust size, waist size and dieting to to get the billionaire boyfriend --- it's destructive to these girls."
Jessica Wakeman, an associate blog editor at The Huffington Post, said her experience in the virtual game left her troubled. "A trip to the tanning bed is 60 'bimbo dollars,' bottled water is 5 'bimbo dollars,'" she wrote.
"You can also turn a profit, though I haven't figured out how yet. If you spend your 1,000 dollars, you visit 'The Bank,' which is PayPal. As soon as I saw PayPal, I rolled my eyes and signed out."
Jacquart said the game is not just about plastic surgery and diet pills.
"That's just a small part of the website," he said. "There are more than 1,000 fashion items on the website, and the average age is now 18, it's not nine to 13 as some people claim."
Jacquart said he is working on ways to expand the game and make its focus more positive. "We have some ideas for new brands, we want to expand Miss Bimbo with social networks," he said.
"We want to add forums on things like anorexia, to help children to learn to accept their bodies."
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