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What’s the big deal about Barbie?

Category: diversity

Barbara Millicent Roberts, known around the world as Barbie, is a cultural icon. In 2018, Mattel's Barbie brand generated gross sales that amounted to about $1.09 billion. And her impact should be measured by more than just sales dollars. It’s where those toys go. They’re right into the heart of many people’s childhoods. She’s powerful.

That’s why there has been international attention to the company’s announcement they’ll debut a doll with a prosthetic leg. There’s another that comes with a wheelchair. The dolls are part of Mattel's 2019 Barbie Fashionistas line, a range of dolls released this year with more diverse representations of community.

New Barbie range

Mattel collaborated with a teenage disability activist, Jordan Reeves. He was born without a left arm and asked for touches like being able to remove the prosthetic, so play is true to life. There is also a realistic wheelchair and a new Barbie DreamHouse-compatible ramp. Mattel says these have been some of their most requested items.

"As a brand, we can elevate the conversation around physical disabilities by including them into our fashion doll line to further showcase a multi-dimensional view of beauty and fashion," Mattel said in a statement.

This is a wonderful view to take, but interesting from a company which for so long modelled a doll which would have a size 2 waist (54cm) and size 2 hips (78cm). A real-life Barbie (or a woman of her proportions) would struggle to stand up.  

Diverse dolls for children

The new Barbie will sit alongside a sisterhood of dolls aimed at better representation. The company already sells three new body shapes. There is Original Barbie and friends Curvy Barbie, Tall Barbie and Petite Barbie. The dolls also have a range of different skin tones and hair styles.

However, some of the most important messaging is actually not coded into the range of skin shades, 22 eye colors, or 24 hairstyles. It’s in the accessories and situations these dolls are put in. Who wouldn’t want to hand over President and Vice-President dolls to a little girl with leadership qualities? Upping the game again, you will be able to buy “Game Developer of the Year” Barbie. I’m impressed.

“This is just the beginning,” says the brand’s website. “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.”

Body-positive dolls

Look, I love so much of this. Thoughtful and diverse representation is ALWAYS welcome but by the BBC’s calculations Curvy Barbie would have a UK size 6/8 waist (63cm) and size 8 hips (91.2cm) 35.9in). The average British woman is around a dress size 14. Barbie’s changing the game. But we’re not quite there yet.

Thinking about your next career step? Search now for a job vacancy with hundreds of companies where representation always matters.

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