After decades of portraying the female figure through Barbies with almost impossible forms and dimensions, Mattel is finally embracing honest and diverse depictions of women.
While obviously there is an incentive to incorporate a diverse range of body types to the toy line, the progressive message should be embraced regardless of profit.
Rewind the clock to 1959, the year of the very first Barbie television advertisement. Barbie was sold as being the perfect woman. She was white, her wardrobe was top-of-the-line and her figure was “small and so petite!”
A voice in the advertisement, as though speaking for every little girl, sings, “Barbie, I’ll make believe that I am you.”
Someone with a naturally wider build would have to make-believe a great deal to pretend to be the unrealistically proportioned, exclusively white Barbie.
This likely wasn’t a concern for Mattel in 1959. Barbie was just a girl’s toy, with all of the problematic overtones that marketing such a product frequently entailed at that time. Back to modern day, Barbie is changing her look, and it’s not just a line of cosmetics.
“We are excited to literally be changing the face of the brand,” said Evelyn Mazzocco, senior vice president and global general manager for Barbie.
Come spring 2016, Mattel is releasing a whole new line of dolls, and they’re far from just another career lineup.
“The variety in body type, skin tones and style allows girls to find a doll that speaks to them,” Mazzocco said.
Three new body types for Barbie will be made available: tall, curvy and petite. This is including Barbie’s original figure, still completely unattainable, but at least with new alternatives.
A pessimist would say that Mattel is attempting to make ends meet after a considerable drop in Barbie sales. “Sales of Mattel’s Barbie are on track to slip for a fourth consecutive year as the toymaker’s efforts to revive the iconic doll have failed to resonate with young girls,” said a Fortune report from July 2015.
Making a more inclusive Barbie line could be seen as a marketing device vainly attempting to make Barbie the “it” doll again.
With this pessimistic mindset, Mattel isn’t much different from what it was in the ‘50s, just trying to find a way to sell products. Barbie isn’t selling as well as she used to, so it was time for a drastic, breaking-news-style change.
But really, who actually cares? If progressive action also leads to lucrative business practice, it’s not a problem. It’s a good thing.
It’s not just body types that Mattel is changing, it is changing its entire attitude toward branding Barbie. The dolls that have been announced for production in 2016 continue Barbie’s trend of working in career positions that are known for being primarily dominated by men. For example, Game Developer Barbie may just plant that early childhood seed that a woman can be whatever she puts her mind to.
Careers are not new to Barbie. Enthusiasts know that she has over a 150 of them.
The three selections made in the wake of this new revamp, including President and Vice President Barbie for summer, point to a brighter future for the doll.
Mattel is bringing Barbie into the modern era without compromising what made her appealing. In all of her iterations, she’s still gorgeous and still fabulous. She’s just letting people know that they don’t have to be unhealthily skinny or neon white to be beautiful.
The quote, “I’ll make believe that I am you,” no longer sounds like a liberal-minded parents’ worst nightmare.
It’s good to see that a toy line that’s nearly half-a-century old can still invent and innovate for the betterment of little girls’ playtimes everywhere.