Today Mattel released three new body types for the classic Barbie doll. Now, Barbie isn’t just a stick thin, big breasted, long legged ideal version of a girl; she actually resembles the girls who play with her. As of today, Barbie comes in curvy, tall, and petite along with a diverse palette of skin, eye, and hair colors.
Some people vent that Barbie is a classic icon, and the only reason she’s being changed is because some groups are overly sensitive. Critics argue that it’s a shame that Mattel has caved to complaints, and by compromising Barbie’s image Mattel is compromising the Barbie brand. There may be some truth to those statements; consumers can definitely be resistant to change. Barbie is an icon, and there’s a nostalgic quality to her original design. The traditional Barbie was the doll our grandmothers and mothers grew up with. It reminds us of simpler times when political correctness wasn’t of concern, and there was no pressure to discuss body image. Dolls could just be pretty. Personally, I grew up with the classic Barbie, and I love the classic Barbie; she will always be an icon.
However, there’s a flip side; the side that says that this change is progress. When our grandmothers and even our mothers were growing up, there weren’t the same hopes for girls. Barbie lived in a pink house, wore pretty clothes and pretty shoes, and she loved Ken. The doll fit the time. Most girls didn’t aspire to play a professional sport, go to college, or have a successful career. Women wanted to find loving partners, get married, and have a family. That’s about it. Those are still wonderful goals and many women, including myself, still aspire for those same things, but now women have the opportunity to do so much more.
To me, it seems the doll has shifted to fit the times. Barbie looks like she’s capable of actually doing things now. She doesn’t have permanently pointed toes that only fit in high heels; she can stand in flats now. Her waist isn’t impossibly thin, and her legs don’t look like they could snap in two. Heck, “tall” Barbie even looks like she might be able paddle out for a surf.
I think by offering an array of body types Mattel is sending the right message: women aren’t one size fits all like the original Barbie. Women come in different shapes, and these shapes are all beautiful. That being said, I want Barbie to be about more than being beautiful. My biggest hope is that the next modification that Mattel makes a Barbie with an athletic build: I want a Carissa Moore, Ronda Rousey, or Alex Morgan Barbie. If Barbies are what girls use to pretend and dream, I want girls to dream about being Carissa Moore. Moore is beautiful, but people don’t talk about her because of her beauty. They talk about Moore because of the incredible things she does on a surfboard. The most powerful way to change the conversation about “body image” is simply to drop the “image.” The focus needs to be on what the body can do, not just how it looks. I want Barbies to help girls play “surf” or “soccer,” not just playing “shopping” or “house”. At the end of the day, what we teach young girls needs to be about more than how they look; it needs to be about what they do.