Since Barbie’s creation in 1959, we have seen this silicone pop culture icon evolve to keep up with the latest fashions of the time. As the decades turn, Barbie has managed to remain fashion forward – always sporting the most in-style haircut or trendy outfit. But, recently Mattel made a change in Barbie Doll that was much bigger than her clothes.
On January 28, 2016, Mattel finally released their new collection called Fashionistas. This line introduces new body shapes – curvy, petite, and tall – along with new hair colors and skin tones for Barbie. For the first time, the iconic one-size-fits-all Barbie is being altered to suit the multicultural world we live in today.
Considering Mattel’s sales have dropped in the past few years more than ever, this seems to be the company’s way of meeting this century’s demand for a toy that represents a wider demographic. Jim Silver, Chief executive of the toy review site TTPM (Toys, Tots, Pets & more), believes that this new diverse line of dolls will do the trick. He expects it to boost Barbie sales and popularity due to the fact that it will mitigate arguments that mothers have about the appearance and proportions of the doll. He thinks kids will also like he new version of the doll better because “they can look at the doll and see what resembles [themselves].”
In some cases, Silver’s assumptions are proved correct. Glamour Magazine put together a video where they interview a few young girls about the new Barbie dolls. All the girls in the video seemed to admire the uniqueness of the new dolls and embrace the changes. Ultimately they feel that they can relate more to the new versions versus the original Barbie. The video can be seen here.
Unfortunately, not all reactions have been quite so positive. Eliana Dockterman, writer of the TIME Magazine’s “Barbie’s Got a New Body” cover story, got a behind the scenes look at first reactions to the doll when she was able to watch focus groups conducted by Mattel. The four focus groups consisted of mothers and children who were introduced to the new doll for the first time. The kid’s reactions were very different to those in the Glamour Magazine video. When a 6 year old girl was given a “curvy” Barbie doll, she used the term “chubby” to describe its stature to the moderator. But, when the moderator left her to play, she ridiculed the doll and called it “fat” which got a laugh out of her fellow playmates.
This kind of ridicule is not just seen amongst children, but adults are taking part in it as well.
The Barbie doll controversy is seemingly endless and exhausting – but at the end of the day it is absolutely inevitable. Barbie doll is such a well known cultural icon that she will always attract some kind of criticism. After all, just like any other cultural icon, the doll cannot please everyone. As Richard Dickson, President and COO of Mattel, puts it simply, “Haters are going to hate.” The company will try its best to appease as many criticisms as possible, but at the end of the day their goal is to keep Barbie fans happy, and make the “haters”feel at least neutral towards the doll.
The concept of a new image for Barbie Doll is something that might take our culture a while to adapt to. We come from a generation where the blonde bombshell image of the doll is ingrained in our heads, so naturally a change that violates this norm will present mixed feelings, opinions, and even a little ridicule. But, hopefully this will be the last generation to contribute to this. Maybe in a few years when a little girl is presented with a “curvy” Barbie doll she will call it beautiful instead of “fat.”
My YouTube video can be found here.