On January 28th, Mattel released a new line of Barbies, the “Fashionistas”, which included an additional three versions of body types – tall, curvy and petite. With this change comes a variety of facial structures, seven different skin types, 22 eye colors and 24 hairstyles.
Finally, after 57 years in the market, Barbie has finally taken a step into the contemporary world of feminism and racial diversity. However, this shift may have come too late to invoke change about the American notion of beauty.
The updated dolls attempt to reconstruct the ideals of societal attractiveness, but it is only an attempt. As a doll and toy, Barbie still serves as a manifestation of such standards.
Mattel’s adjustments only redefine the definition of beauty in a plastic sense. The fact that Barbie exists simply to define this idea for women continues to deter progress towards inclusivity and body positivity.
The doll’s updates, not the doll itself, call attention to the still prevalent emphasis on physical allure for women and the still existent gender boundaries.
This poses the question of whether or not it is too late for any lasting change. Time magazine’s Eliana Dockterman reported shocking observations from Mattel’s Barbie test groups.
A six year-old girl voiced the curvy Barbie saying, “Hello, I’m a fat person. Fat fat, fat,” receiving laughs from her playmates. Others refused to even state the word.
Clearly, the label of “fat” has become a social construct that a new Barbie can’t fix immediately.
But Mattel’s actions are a good start. They have the potential to foster a lasting conversation between generations of women on the mainstream portrayal of beauty and its repercussions. The updates were certainly needed for Barbie to reflect today’s young women.
“We were seeing that Millennials are driven by social justice and attracted to brands with purpose and values, and they didn’t see Barbie in this category,” stated Mattel’s director Tania Missad.
The modifications to the doll are only the start on a long path to fixing the singular image of female beauty. It’s a significant step though, considering Mattel’s widespread popularity among children.
For example, the magazine Glamour released a video titled “Young Girls React to Seeing the New Barbies for the First Time,” featuring girls from ages six to twelve.
Dasani, age nine, realized, “There could be a lot of people that could call themselves a Barbie, like no matter what size they are.”
Now that Barbie’s new models are more inclusive, she can better portray the range of women and girls she represents. According to Time magazine, ninety-two percent of girls ages 3-12 have owned a Barbie. Finally, in 2016, these girls can associate Barbie’s portrayal of beauty to those within their own lives, reinforcing healthier, more realistic images of beauty.
It’s a conversation starter, which is a step in the right direction. Celebrating individuals and their differences within the highly acclaimed images of Barbie will create traction for the debate against idealistic models.
By updating the image of the popular icon, Mattel calls to attention the effect on young girls and women regarding anorexia, bringing to light the debate of the overall effect within American culture. The new Barbies now urge their audience to facilitate the shift to a more accepting society where not only original Barbies, but also tall, curvy and petite Barbies — and as an extension tall, curvy and petite women — can be acknowledged and empowered.
Annie Nguyen is a first year political sciences major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.