Yesterday, parents up and down the country kicked their heels in celebration – the news broke that Mattel are, next month, launching a new range of Barbie dolls with three different body shapes, seven skin tones and 24 hair colours. Finally, our children can play with Barbie dolls that look like real people!
Like many mums, I’ve had a complicated relationship with Barbie. Having played with her through my own childhood (Peaches & Cream and Crystal Barbies were my ultimate favourites), I have this nostalgic attachment to her. My memories of playing with her in a hand-me-down Sindy doll house, popping her in a silver sports car (the best Christmas present ever, one year) and making her kiss my Ken doll are all tinted with a rosy-glow.
But – as I’ve talked about before – when I got older, I struggled with elements of Barbie. What kind of effect is this tiny-waisted, big boobed figure having on little people? Come to think of it, what kind of effect did it subconsciously have on me? As someone who spent her 20s going to endless Weight Watchers classes despite being a well-proportioned size 12/14, there’s no denying I had a skewed vision of what my body should look like.
So these new body shapes – tall, petite and curvy – will surely go a long way in reinforcing that all-important message that beauty comes in various shapes and sizes. The different skin tones in the new dolls is a massively welcome change too. Dora and Doc McStuffins aside, UK toy shops have, for too long, been filled with mostly white faces – something which just doesn’t reflect the world our kids live in. Of course, there still isn’t a Barbie doll to mirror every little girl, but this is a good start, isn’t it? And if it encourages other toy companies to think a bit harder about what they’re producing, then bring it on.
Mattel say they recognised that ‘Millennial Moms’ were looking for diversity. “We were seeing that Millennials are driven by social justice and attracted to brands with purpose and values, and they didn’t see Barbie in this category,” says Tania Missad, Mattel’s director of global brand insights. Which is great! But really Mattel? Us Generation X-ers have been crying out for diversity in dolls and toys for a long time. There’s a reason that Barbie sales have been plummeting for the past decade and I find it surprising that it’s taken Mattel until 2016 to address the issue that’s been killing their brand.
In fairness, I was a huge fan of Mattel’s Imagine The Possibilities campaign which showed girls playing with their Barbie dolls as if they were scientists, vets, sports coaches and more. But this move goes so much further to reflect what parents actually want from a doll.
So next month? I’ll be buying at least three or four of these dolls for my daughter. No longer will Merida (with her red hair and wider face) be the most realistic doll in her collection. She’ll be able to play with dolls that more closely resemble her and her friends. That’s something to celebrate.