There’s now a Barbie with flat feet and thighs that touch each other. A Barbie with a magnificent afro. A petite Barbie with Asian eyes. A Barbie with a dark West African complexion. An albino Barbie. And a Ken with a man-bun.
Almost 60 years since the first blonde, blue-eyed, tiny-waisted, long-legged Barbie appeared on the market in 1959, is this too little too late…or should we applaud toy-maker Mattel’s recognition of a broader view of beauty; one that better incorporates racial, physical, and other manifestations of diversity?
A huge chunk of me is thrilled with Fashionista® Barbies. A small chunk of me is irritated that it’s taken so long and that we’re still not quite there.
But my girls are largely pleased. So I find myself in two minds on this issue.
My daughter’s take
My six-year-old daughter is impressed that there’s now a Barbie who ‘looks more like Mommy’ (Doll 65 Powder Pink Lace – Curvy). Like Mommy, ‘Doll 65’ has long dark hair that’s slightly frizzy at the ends, brown eyes, long eyelashes, and what my daughter calls ‘a curvy body’.
I asked her, “Does Curvy Barbie look like a real person?” She said, “The curvy bits, yes. And she doesn’t have too much make-up on, unlike the blonde one. But if you take away the curvy bits, the ‘new’ Barbie looks like the ‘old’ one. No freckles or beauty spots. No bendy knees.”
On the other hand, then, Curvy Barbie may have minor curves, but she remains perfectly toned, smooth-skinned, and unable to sit, kneel, or squat.
Why so long?
We all deserve to see ourselves reflected in pop culture; to feel celebrated for our body type, features, hair, skin tone, and personal style. So it’s encouraging to see some changes (even though Mattel’s Fashionista® dolls are probably based as much on profit as they are on principle).
What I can’t help wondering is: Why did this take 57 years? And what else is coming? Because, until very recently, Barbie’s physical dimensions were (and, in the case of ‘original’ Barbies, continue to be) completely unrealistic. High heels and long hair were the default, with no nipples to speak of.
I’d sincerely applaud ‘Truly Chubby Barbie’, ‘Shaven-Headed Barbie’, ‘Barbie with Big Feet’, and ‘Widespread-Freckles Barbie’ – all fully articulated and super-stylish. But, to find out if all this actually matters to those who count, I decided to interview, separately, the two kids who live in my house:
Background: My 6-year-old daughter is White, short, and very much a pig-tailed Grade 1. Our 13-year-old is Black, tall, elegant, and wears braids. Together they own 12 Barbies, and play with them up to five times a week.
- Does the blonde (traditional) Barbie look like a real person?
6yo: Her make-up, yes. But her legs, no. Her legs don’t have freckles and dots and beauty spots, and she doesn’t have bendy knees.
13yo: No. She’s a bit too stiff. And her legs are too long when you compare them to her arms and to the rest of her body.
- Does the curvy (Fashionista) Barbie look like a real person?
6yo: The curvy bits, yes. And I do like that she doesn’t have too much make-up on. But if you take away the curvy bits, she looks exactly like the blonde Barbie. No dots and spots.
13yo: No. Her hips are wide but her legs are still skinny. She’s not able to move properly. Her skin is also not dark enough to be Black. She’s too brown.
- What do you like about the way blonde (traditional) Barbie looks?
6yo: I love her accessories, her clothes, and the beauty spot on her chin (which is actually a dirty mark).
13yo: Her blue eyes are very pretty, and her pink lipstick is nice.
- What do you like about the way (Fashionista) Barbie looks?
6yo: I love her hair in two buns – because sometimes I wear my hair like that. I love her clothes and her accessories. She’s also more tanned than most Barbies. I like that.
13yo: Her face is really beautiful, even though she has big cheeks. I really like that she wears takkies and not high heels.
- What do you like about the way (fully articulated) Made to Move Soccer Player Barbie looks?
6yo: She’s bendy. She plays soccer, and she can do yoga, ballet and karate, because she has bendy knees and hips.
13yo: She’s cool. She can fit into takkies and high heels. She’s always slouching, though, because she’s fully articulated. So she never stands up straight.
- What do you think is Barbie’s most exciting and inspiring career so far?
6yo: She went to the moon.
13yo: Definitely going to space.
The bottom line
Beloved by kids big and small, Barbie’s not going anywhere. Plus, there are loads of dolls on the market both more and less anatomically correct.
The problem for me – and the reason I can’t wholeheartedly embrace the changes and abandon my verkrampte sense of ‘But it’s not enough…’ – is down to the fact that Barbie is the world’s best-selling toy. A Barbie doll is sold every three seconds, totalling 10.5 million unit sales per year. Now that’s A. LOT. OF. INFLUENCE.