Barbie. She’s the ultimate picture of perfection, right? After all, isn’t that what drew all of us to her as children (and all of our daughters to her now)?
She’s just the right height, has an itsy bitsy little waist, super-slim hips and – well, let’s just say that she’s not lacking on top.
Hold on, wait! Do we really want young children growing up thinking that they need to look like this impossibly ideal image?
Of course not!
That said, for decades we’ve seen Barbie get new hair styles, new clothes and new careers.
She’s been a teenage fashion model, astronaut, Olympic athlete, surgeon, aerobics instructor (with a 1980s Olivia Newton John ‘Let’s Get Physical’ style outfit no less), a veterinarian, a rock star, a naval petty officer, a presidential candidate, a firefighter, an equestrian, a computer engineer (it’s those teeny tiny glasses that make her look brainy, and not busty), and that’s just the short list. Throughout her resume of constantly changing careers, Barbie has always been the bastion of idealized beauty. Whether she’s hitting the campaign trail or coding the newest software, she’s always had that super-slim hourglass figure.
That is until now. It looks like Barbie is getting the ultimate makeover.
On January 28 Mattel debuted a new line of Barbie dolls, including a range of different body shapes. Fans of the original will still find the same shapely doll available in many, many different styles. But, if you’re looking for a slightly more realistic picture of what a woman looks like, Barbie also comes in tall, petite and curvy varieties!
The 2016 Barbie Makeover Fashionistas line not only features dolls in four different body types, but is set to include seven different skin tones, 24 hairstyles, 22 eye colors and a somewhat staggering array of Barbie fashions (which makes sense given the doll line’s title). On their website, Mattel says, “This is just the beginning. From offering products that feature more empowering and imaginative roles to partnering with best in class role models, we believe in girls and their limitless potential.”
With more than $1 billion in sales (and that’s in 150 countries), Barbie is hardly a brand that’s begging for a re-do. Despite the prime popularity of the dolls, it’s no secret that mums, women, girls and the general public have made Barbie the poster girl for society-imposed body shaming. Barbie body hate controversy isn’t exactly breaking news. Created by Ruth Handler (and names after her daughter Barbara) in 1959, by the early 1960s women were criticizing the crazy-curvaceous doll’s figure. Despite dressing the doll up in serious styles (i.e., making her a business woman or a presidential hopeful), Barbie has remained the stereotype pf the busty babe. Unless you’re a Victoria’s Secret model or on the pages of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, chances are that you don’t look anything like any Barbie doll (computer engineer included).
Like you, it’s more than likely that your daughter won’t grow into a Barbie-like body. So, why wait until now to make Barbie look more like a ‘real’ woman? When Evelyn Mazzocco took over as head of the Barbie brand she looked to the doll’s haters. Mazzocco told Time, “I wanted to remind myself every time I came to work about the reality of what is going on with the brand.”
Now comes the big question: “Will little girls who look to Barbie as the pinnacle of perfection accept (or better yet, enthusiastically embrace) the new line’s different sizes?” Do children want the real deal (a doll that looks like they do or looks just like mum) or will they still crave the plastic, idealized view of femininity? Research team head for Mattel’s girls portfolio, Tania Missad, tells Time of their Barbie test groups, “We see it a lot. The adult leaves the room and they undress the curvy Barbie and snicker a little bit.” Missad goes on to say, “For me, it’s these moments where it just really sets in how important it is that we do this. Over time I would love it if a girl wouldn’t snicker and just think of it as another beautiful doll.”
This sums it up supremely. Instead of looking for themselves (or for real women, like their mums) in dolls, our daughters are conditioned to expect perfectly proportioned plastic bodies. Barbie might dress up like a serious army surgeon or a political hopeful, but she always manages to also look like a lingerie model. Is it possible that Barbie’s new line will open up little girls’ eyes and make them see that beauty isn’t singular? Will playing with a curvy doll help our children to accept different shapes and sizes? Will it make it ok not to look like a swimsuit model? Possibly. But, only time will tell if Mattel’s foray into the ‘real’ makes a difference.