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We’re all Barbie Girls?


We’re not saying goodbye to the impossible woman quite yet, but the makers of Barbie have taken a step in the right direction with a new range of dolls who are more than thin, blonde, and white.

The new range of Barbie dolls, “Fashionistas,” was launched this January. The line features eight different skin tones, 3 body types, 14 facial structures, 22 hairstyles, 23 hair colors, and 18 eye colors. Twenty-three dolls in total, and Mattel, the creator of Barbie, insists that each doll is a true Barbie. Not just some spinoff. Does this new line mean that Barbie is suddenly the perfect role model for all kids? No. Does it mean that everyone can find a perfect reflection of themselves in a plastic doll now? Absolutely not. But this line represents something bigger.

Mattel would not release this range if it wouldn’t help them financially. That wouldn’t make any sense. So, there are a lot of cynics who say that the new launch is just an effort to bring in some more money. And that’s clearly true But it isn’t a bad thing. Not even close.

You may recall talking about a famous study done by Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the 1940s in a history class. The study was conducted by showing African-American children dolls which were identical in every aspect except race and asking them questions about which doll they preferred. The Clarks’ consensus  was that the children overwhelmingly preferred the white doll because they thought of it as being “better” than the black doll. The two psychologists concluded that prejudice, discrimination, and segregation were hugely damaging to the self-esteem of African-American children. They argued that society had trained the kids to like the white doll.

When the toys that you play with as a kid all look one way, you’re going to want to look that way. Of course, this probably only applies to dolls and action figures, but, nevertheless, youth are still strongly impacted by the idea of conventional beauty. It isn’t a conscious decision, but there’s a place in your mind that associates the characteristics of the toy with the ideal image of yourself. So, since becoming the original Barbie would be physically impossible–she doesn’t have enough room for all of her organs and wouldn’t even be able to walk–it can be pretty tough to be happy with your appearance.

So, let’s get back to talking about the money-making side of this. It isn’t interesting or surprising that Mattel wants to make more money. It’s the fact that this is the way they’ll  do it.

Somewhere in the space of the last few years, classic Barbie sales began to plummet. At the same time, more diverse ranges of dolls, like the American girl doll, experienced an increase in sales. Mattel took the hint.

This new range of Barbies is representative, to some degree, of what society expects in a children’s toy. The numbers show that the public is no longer satisfied with the original Barbie. She is no longer an accurate representation of what we want the next generation to grow up with. We are demanding diversity.

The important piece in all of this is not the dolls because it’s us.

The “Fashionistas” did not solve every problem on earth, but did we really expect them to? To some, this new line seems unimportant, even powerless, in the face of generations built on one idea of beauty. But the dolls are a physical manifestation of the way that we are beginning to reject this one-dimensional view of what it means to be attractive. We’re waking up and realizing that all little kids should look in the mirror and like what they see. And that starts here.

We can’t expect a 24-hour revamp of society, thanks to a few new dolls. But we are entitled to progress in every way imaginable. These dolls represent progress.



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