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The Evolution of Barbie

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By Maheem Syed |

Barbie. The word immediately conjures images of frilly slim-waisted, small-footed, blonde-haired figures; the classic image of beauty. Since Barbie was first introduced in 1959, critics have been wary of her impact on society- specifically young girls- and the image of what is aesthetically acceptable. In 1963, Barbie Baby-Sits, comes with a book labeled “How to Lose Weight”. It simply states, “Don’t eat” (Time). Similarly, in 1992, Teen Talk Barbie exclaims “Math class is tough!” and “Let’s go shopping!” (Time). The Barbie Liberation Organization claimed that “the doll taught girls that is was more important to be pretty than smart.” (Time).

Through the decades, Barbie has been at the center of what is expected from women in society. Her features, skin tone, hair color, and size have made up the beauty standard for an entire generation. Young girls were brought up expecting to look like a doll, to be considered attractive. Differences in skin tone, eye color, or body shape would not fit the status quo- thus leading to many girls developing insecurities in regards to their appearance.

According to the company responsible for Barbie (Mattel), every second, three new Barbies are sold around the world. The thin blue-eyed figure emphasized the limitations of beauty, and the standard size “to be pretty”; which in human proportions would be impossible. However, as women’s rights began to gain momentum around the world, Mattel sees that by 2014, sales were decreasing by 16%. The ideal for beauty was changing, and Barbie would have to change with it.

Thus, as of 2016, Mattel is introducing three new shapes to Barbie- curvy, tall, and petite. The “new barbie” will also have eight skin tones, 14 facial structures, 18 eye colors, 22 hairstyles, and 23 hair colors (CNN). Nevertheless, the most notable change is in the proportions of specifically the curvier doll. If the original Barbie was real, she would be 5 feet and 9 inches, weighing 110 pounds, and have a body mass index which fits within “anorexic”. However, Curvy Barbie has wider hips, a plumper stomach and posterior, and a fuller face. The change is apparent, especially for younger girls. When asked, a six year old girl imitates the curvy Barbie saying, “Hello, I’m a fat person, fat, fat, fat,” (Time).

Though Mattel is changing the face of their company to adapt to newer beauty ideals, the change is bound to take time. When asking girls in a focus group to choose which of the many dolls was Barbie, each pointed to the original blonde. One mother states, “If a black woman or a redheaded woman or a heavyset woman had shown up, my daughter would have been like, ‘Where’s Barbie?’”

The logistics of Project Dawn, as it has been named, are another difficulty. Generally, Project Dawn is the title used to refer to the new types of Barbies created. Based on this, to ensure there is no sensitivity in regards to the shape of the doll, Mattel has decided to sell two different types of dolls in one package, and form new names for the dissimilar dress and shoe sizes. In fact, another branch has been opened simply to deal with complaints from the new avenue Mattel has opened (Time).

Though the children are hesitant to speak of Barbie’s new body, mothers are glad to see the change. Many are glad to see the increase in diversity behind a chief fashion icon. Most agree that newer variations would make them more likely for them to buy a Barbie. As for the children, seeing Barbies that look more like them are causing a greater amount of awareness to spread. Young girls no longer have to live up to the vacuous doll, who exemplified the ideal of only one beautiful body standard.. Despite the fact that acceptance of the new figures is not whole-hearted, Mattel hopes that children learn to embrace differences in appearance.  Tania Missad, a leader of the research team for Mattel’s girls portfolio, states, “Over time I would love it if a girl wouldn’t snicker and just think of it [curvy Barbie] as another beautiful doll.” (Time).

It appears that Barbie is taking a step in the correct direction. The creation of different shapes, skin tones, and clothing styles is a way for Mattel to promote diversity and a new image of attractiveness. This will inspire children to look deeper than thin waists and fair skin for beauty, but instead welcome the different shapes and styles, and spread the message of change. Though it took Mattel many decades to reach this understanding, it appears as though “Barbie” is not synonymous with thin blonde anymore.

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