Barbie’s look takes leap forward
By KARA YORIO STAFF WRITER | The Record
The world is a better place, with more imaginable possibilities and greater acceptance, when society provides children with books, television, movies and toys that accurately reflect who the kids are and the world they live in, while also allowing a view into someone else’s experience.
So it is a very big deal indeed that Barbie — the lightning rod and scapegoat for so much feminist disgust over the years — now has multiple body types. Mattel has not broken the much-criticized mold but added new ones. Joining Original Barbie are Tall, Petite and Curvy Barbies.
The new doll line, which is available online now and will hit store shelves in March, includes more than 30 new Barbies with seven skin tones, four body types, 30 hair colors, 24 hairstyles and 22 eye colors. Children will now see themselves, their friends, sisters, mothers, grandmothers and aunts represented in the dolls sitting around the Dreamhouse.
Mattel revealed the big body news on the cover of Time magazine — a strange choice and a nod to an earlier era when Barbie was the queen, the only fashion doll around. The company did create a hashtag for its social media push, though: #TheDollEvolves.
But this is just the latest in the evolution of the Barbie brand, of course.
Last year, she was given flat feet, so she could kick off her heels and stand on her own. There’s a metaphor there for those who are looking, but the reality hurts the desired negative narrative.
Barbie was never anyone’s sidekick, never the woman behind the man.
Ken was as much an accessory as any purse or pair of boots. (There is no word on Ken getting a more realistic physique any time soon, by the way.)
For decades, we have been blinded by Barbie’s small waist, large chest and high shoes — and there is the metaphor that really matters.
We have ridiculed her as vapid at best and detrimental to the psychological development of young girls at worst. We like to think of Barbie as behind the times, a relic holding girls back with her body, hair and fashion, but Barbie had careers before many women in this country even considered it and tried to keep her social life up with the changing times. In many ways, society had to catch up with her; in some places it’s still trying.
She was a fashion editor in 1960. A 2012 study showed that women held less than 25 percent of leadership roles in media.
In 1963, Mattel gave kids college graduate and Executive (Career Girl) Barbie. In 2015, a CNNMoney analysis showed that women made up only 14.2 percent of the top five leadership positions in S&P 500 companies — and only 24 CEOs.
Barbie Miss Astronaut came out in 1965. America didn’t send its first woman astronaut into space until Sally Ride in 1983.
In the Civil Rights days of the late 1960s, Mattel introduced a black friend for Barbie — Christie — although admittedly it took them much too long to make a black version of Barbie herself, which didn’t happen until 1980.
She was a surgeon in 1973 and first ran for president of the United States in 1992.
We eventually caught up to Barbie’s independence and aspirations. Now she has come around to the idea that this life can be had and valued no matter what she looks like.
Five years from now, kids picking up their first Barbie will never know a world where only one Barbie body type existed, where consciously or subconsciously girls were told that the person we wanted to be — no matter our aspirations — was tall and blond with cartoonish body measurements. Much like most kids today don’t know that wearing glasses or braces or having a food allergy was once something that brought ridicule: The children have evolved, it’s about time the parents and corporations catch up.
“We are excited to literally be changing the face of the brand — these new dolls represent a line that is more reflective of the world girls see around them — the variety in body type, skin tones and style allows girls to find a doll that speaks to them,” Evelyn Mazzocco, senior vice president and global general manager of Barbie, said in a statement. “We believe we have a responsibility to girls and parents to reflect a broader view of beauty.”
Mattel did so well with the dolls, but failed when the person was allowed to speak.
The company is actually giving all kids a more reflective view of the women of the world. While, yes, it is girls who fight body image issues, Mattel has a responsibility to girls and boys to show a broader view of beauty. But that’s another story.
Today, we applaud Mattel for finally having Barbie’s appearance catch up to the times and the more progressive lifestyle she has embodied over the years. We eagerly await Equal Pay Barbie who can buy just as many outfits — for her curvy, petite or tall figure — as the man who has the same job.