Do you remember Barbie’s catchy slogan–be who you wanna be B-A-R-B-I-E? For most girls Barbie’s slogan was just a fun jingle. Seeing a Barbie doll that looked like you wasn’t possible for children who didn’t have Barbie’s iconic blonde hair and blue eyes. But all of that has changed now.
Fifty-seven years after Barbie’s original inception, Mattel has announced that the new Barbie dolls will come in three different body types, seven different skin tones, 22 different eye colors, and 24 different skin colors. These new Barbie dolls will showcase diversity, but has the damage already been done?
For decades, it’s been known that America’s favorite toy doll does not represent its diverse population of young children it markets toward. There wasn’t an official Black Barbie until 1980, but this Barbie did not have any features unique to her race–they still were white. In 2009, Black Barbie dolls with Black features were finally launched.
This change for diverse Barbie dolls isn’t simply because Mattel realized they have denied representing young girls for decades. The shift to include more diverse Barbie dolls boils down to money. In 2015, sale for Barbie dolls were down for a third year in a row, and in 2016, Mattel realized that it needed a wider market. Now, we have diverse Barbies.
While Mattel refused to show different races, they also refused to have a Barbie with diverse body types. Barbie’s body dimensions have always been completely unrealistic. If Barbie were a real person, she would not be able to walk, lift her head, or carry anything with her wrists. Even though Barbie has gone through a series of careers like doctor, teacher, or astronaut, the ideal body image that she has perpetuated is still backwards.
It’s great that in 2016 Mattel has decided to include diverse Barbie dolls. However, there are generations of young women, like me, who grew up in the age where those toys were very limited. If you wanted to play with a beautiful doll, that doll would have blonde hair, blue eyes, a senselessly small waist, and she would probably look nothing like you. A video came out this past holiday season showing the impact undiverse dolls have on children’s preferences. Honestly, this change is just too little, too late.
For me, the damage has been done. If I have a child who wants to play with a doll, I will try to find ANY alternative to Barbie. However, for the new generation of children having a Barbie dolls that represent what they look like is ground-breaking. When you give a blonde haired and blue eyed doll to a child and tell them that this doll is beautiful, you’re also telling them that if they don’t look like the doll then they aren’t beautiful. This is a message that Mattel no longer supports but I can’t help but think they are only doing this for market share.
(Photo credit: Twitter/Mattel)