By: Irene Ameena, 11th grade
In a world where body positivity is finally being promoted by prominent actresses, singers, and models, the doll industry has been lamentably behind. This past month, however, Mattel (and Barbie) scored big-time.
In 1959, a waif-thin blond girl with big eyes and a small waist made her debut in front of a group of skeptical businesspeople. Named after a little girl who was sick of playing with paper dolls, Barbie was presented at the American International Toy Fair to an
audience that largely felt that adult-bodied dolls would not be successful. Up unt
il then, most dolls were infants, but Ruth Handler realized that her daughter, Barbara, would pretend the dolls were older and act out real-life scenarios. She created Barbie, who was marketed as a teenage fashion model. Barbie was a hit. In her first year of production, 350,000 copies were distributed widely, wearing a zebra print swimsuit and a signature top knot. Since then, Barbie has gone through an evolution.
Barbie has long been regarded as a possible bad role model for young girls due to her unrealistic figure. A standard Barbie doll is scaled from a height of 5 feet 9 inches. She lacks the body fat required for a woman to menstruate, according to research by the University Central Hospital in Finland. In 1963, a Barbie was sold with a book titled “How To Lose Weight” that advised “Don’t eat!” In 1965, another Barbie came with a pink bathroom scale permanently set at 110 pounds, which would be severely underweight for someone of Barbie’s height.
This past January, Mattel announced that it would finally be making changes to Barbie’s controversial body shape. The company announced that they were releasing new tall, curvy, and petitie Barbies, along with a wider range of hair colors and features. Eliana Dockterman of TIME writes: “American beauty ideals have evolved..the curvaceous bodies of Kim Kardashian West, Beyoncé and Christina Hendricks have become iconic, while millennial feminist leaders like Lena Dunham are deliberately baring their un-Barbie-like figures onscreen, fueling a movement that promotes body acceptance.”
Why not include little girls in this movement too, and address body image issues that can later branch off into eating disorders as girls mature? Maybe teaching girls that there is no body type they should aspire to be will help to stop body negativity before it even presents itself in teenagers. Seven skin tones, four body types, twenty two eye colors, and twenty four hairstyles..it’s definitely a change for Mattel, and for the better.
Mattel scored again this week, when it announced the release of a new doll based off U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach as part of a new campaign to create dolls showing girls in successful and unstereotypical environments. The Abby Wambach doll looks just like the soccer player, with a soccer uniform that is NOT pink, close-cropped blond hair, and legs positioned to kick a ball.
Of course, it’s not going to be easy to change people’s minds. In one of the test groups Mattel used the dolls with, one girl was observed singing that the curvy girl was fat, while another shouted that the curvy one was uglier. Many little girls have adopted outdated Western ideas about beauty standards, and this preconceived idea could be hard to change. But on the contrary, some researchers say that new millennial parents will not stand for skewed ideas on what makes someone pretty, or what makes someone important.
What does this mean for us, the consumers? It means that we have a chance to make a difference in the upcoming generation. It means that we have a shot at turning things around, at proving that little girl wrong about the curvy doll or teaching another child about the wide variety of things a woman can do. It’s never easy to change people’s minds. But kids are kids, and their opinions are shaped on what they see. So Mattel, props to you for making two moves to diversify Barbies this week, and in turn ensuring that the new generation of little girls and boys will be more open-minded, tolerant, and confident in their own perfectly unique bodies.