A Barbie that Can Change the World

February 3, 2016   27 Comments

I realize that a doll is simply a reflection of what toy makers think parents will buy (and children will enjoy).

New Barbie Dolls

But, Mattel has finally done something radical to the toy that makes many mothers cringe – Barbie. Parents who are aware that Barbie’s dimensions are unachievable, feet are stuck in a shape that only fits high heeled shoes, and that she is wearing a ton of makeup are not buying the doll.

Anyone who has read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison or cares about social justice has reflected on what it means that a hugely popular doll only comes with blond hair, blue eyes, and white skin.

These instinctual objections to the doll have been followed up by psychological studies of its effect on children. The research documents Barbie’s negative consequences on girls’ psyches. For example, a Developmental Psychology study reported that girls aged five to six were more dissatisfied with their shape and wanted more extreme thinness after seeing Barbie doll images than after seeing other pictures.

Another study found that girls who played with Barbies were more likely to restrict their eating afterwards than girls who played with fuller-figured dolls. Yikes!

I am sure that the executives at Mattel reviewed the studies and, finally, they have answered the call for a more realistic doll. Also, their sales were tanking (duh!).

Colors, curves, different hairstyles, and feet that can fit flat shoes are now options for young girls (or boys) who want to play with these dolls. They can see themselves and their families in these dolls and hopefully, their psyches will be supported instead of harmed by their toys.

It is about time. Thank you, Mattel, for finally getting it.

Now we need girl’s and women’s magazines to start giving us a diversity of body images. Do not underestimate the power of advertisements, celebrities, and toys to shape our view of ourselves.

What do you think of the new Barbie? Will it make a difference?

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I had heard about the new Barbies, but hadn't seen pictures yet ... definitely a step in the right direction.

I keep hoping it's only a fad that will faze itself out, but I would like to see the popularity of cosmetic facial work gone. Some 'celebrities' are looking grotesque! If only they could appreciate their own, unique beauty.

They look great! I'm amazed it took them all of these decades to change the feet!

I had the first ever Barbie as a child. My children played with Barbies and my grandchildren. None of us ever even thought about her shape as being anything but just a doll. We don't have any bad image of ourselves or anybody else. Get over it people, it's just a doll.

I've been hooked on all things British for over 15yrs now, starting with watching old PBS Masterpiece Series obtained from a local library, then Youtubes, Hulu, Netflix, etc. What stands out a lot is the starring women's looks, size and age! They represent women in all sizes and faces as beautiful, including hook noses, chubby thighs, messy hair, and no make-up. I love it, its so real and inclusive. No cookie-cutter shapes or faces, just real people. Men too, are not all with chiseled jawlines, defined muscles, etc. I can only imagine this makes for a better self-image for all. Has anyone else noticed this?

I like the looks of the new dolls, however I agree with Charm. I never attached any type of meaning to my dolls and have no left over negative self image. I do have happy memories of playing Barbies with my friends and hand making new clothes for them. I even remember the last time I played with my Barbie. I was 12 and a good friend and I decided we were too old to play with Barbies, so we played with them one last time. A nice memory....

Best idea ever.....everyone is different. It's about time someone took all that into consideration...IT's OK in fact it's WONDERFUL to be DIFFERENT!!!

Mine's on order and should be coming in the next week. I got the curvy one with blue hair. I played with Barbies when I was little and never gave a thought to her figure, but I adore that this one is thick, fierce and amazing :)

I agree with BarbL about the British shows. My sister, brother in law and I are all hooked on them. And we have also noticed that the actors are average in appearance and we notice their talent, not their looks.

I used to work with kids. One day a pudgy brown haired six year old girl was playing with a Barbie. Due to the Barbie controversy, I thought I would see what she thinks. I said, "You're not going to look like that when you grow up, you know?" She looked at me like I was stupid and said, "I know... This is a DOLL." I told her she's awesome.

I played with Barbies when I was a child. And while I don't think it gave me body image issues, I can say that there has certainly been a lack of average sized folk represented in our society. So that alone is an incredible reason for something like this! I LOVE the idea that my girls now have dolls that represent their skin color, hair texture etc. I have never purchased a Barbie for them because my girls aren't white with blue eyes. They do have a few 18 inch dolls with their skin color and hair style with matching outfits which has been tons of fun for them these past few years. Thanks Mattel for answering the calls instead of being in denial about the need for equal representation.

I wonder why Mattel put their hands on their hips. Yes, we need to accept all different types of bodies, but we definitely don't need any more attitude. (Just glad I have boys......!)

It's a great first step....but at least 2 of the ones pictured are still pretty slim....

Wonderful new twist to the Barbie franchise. Mom wouldn't have Barbies in the house, and bought my sister a less-endowed Tammy doll, for which I made many clothes.

(the title confused me a bit . . . ;-)

This person sent his comment to me for review before posting. I think this is a great addition to our discussion.

From Phil:

As a father of a daughter and two sons, and from a perspective of over 50 years of observation, I believe your body image concerns are just a symptom of a larger issue.

Children, and more so in girls, tend to absorb any negative observation and discount any positive ones. If a young girl hears 20 compliments and 1 statement that can be interpreted as negativity, she will dwell on that percieved negativity and take it to be the "truth" while all the positive was just people being polite. It can be about appearance, performance, intelligence, or anything else. I will forever remember the time when my young, brilliant fair-haired daughter heard her first "blond joke" and instantly quit excelling scholastically. It didn't matter that it wasn't directed specifically at her or that it was explained immediately to her that it was a poor joke, she adopted the punchline. You can't blame advertisers for this, as it will happen even in the most positive and supporting environments. Advertisers are simply leveraging a psychological weakness that already exists. Our children's worst enemies are themselves, until we can teach them to stop abusing themselves by co-opting the real and perceived negativity.

I'm wondering about the clothes.

You were always able to pick out any of the many stylish outfits for Barbie, and it would fit on any Barbie doll. And there were so many to choose from!

These new dolls aren't all going to wear the same size. Are the new body types going to have access to the same variety of clothes?

I came across this link that reviews 5 TV shows that communicate a positive message about body image.

I think it's interesting that the black doll is extremely thin, wearing heels, and still has the same Barbie feet.

The dolls come in different sizes and colors. So there is also a Black doll in all the other shapes as well. Diversity isn't a bad thing. And while one person may say it hasn't negatively affected their self image, I see an increase in popularity of butt augmentations, and lip injections, etc. There's nothing wrong with celebrating diversity. It is JUST A DOLL - so it shouldn't be a big deal if she starts sporting some curves. So, yea, get over it people. It's just a (curvy, tall, petite) doll.

Actually as I collector, I can tell you, Barbie has had different colors, nationalities, and professions for YEARS. There's a doctor Barbie, vet, pilot, astronaunt, etc., and in every possible color and nationality (see dolls of the world,plus, queens, empresses, etc.) so I believe they've showed women in many good ways, too. Only 'shape' has remained an issue. Also, Hasbro now has the contract for Barbie and they are changing the dimensions a bit (see a recent Business Week article). I believe the shoulders are narrowing, reducing the chest/waist dimension that was unachievable. I also believe the dolls ares shorter (and shorter legs might also be more realistic). Hasbro is following a more active action figure model, I believe, but we'll see. giant step,in the right direction. Actually, I think

Mattel could do a complete turn-around and start manufacturing Snack Girl dolls! Little cuties with brains inside their heads, and little play kitchens set up to prepare healthy little meals for their healthy little kids. That would be doing the world a real service. Don't laugh. I'm serious!

Frances: Snack Girl dolls would be awesome! Changing the dominant thinking from glamour to health! Some toy company is missing out on a popular idea!

I don't think it's necessary to change Barbie. It's just a doll. When I was a kid I loved Barbie and I especially loved all the fun clothes. Now how is Barbie going to share her clothes with all her friends? While I understand why they did this, I don't think it will make a bit of difference because there are still many real life negative influences.

Whether or not playing with a skinny doll gives girls body image issues, NOT being able to see themselves in or identify with media messages is most certainly a problem. As the mother of two brown girls, it can be tricky to find toys, books, cartoon/tv/movie characters to which my kids can relate. There frequency of more inclusive media messages is obviously greater than it used to be, but the "traditional" Barbie image is still "norm". Any effort to expand the definition of what's "normal" is a good one in my book.

I too like the more normal appearance on British TV. I also like that more shows seem to show diverse families or groups without it being odd or the focus of the show. Families or groups of friends will have different nationalities or races. It maybe that we just see those shows that are better at this.

Wow, I don't know yet...I need to think about it.

Barbie has received a number of makeovers since she debuted in 1959. In the past few years, fashion designer Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Gar ons created a new look for the doll and Roksanda Ilincic produced a Brutalist dystopian "dream house" for her .

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