Body-positive Barbie gets a new look



Body-positive Barbie now comes in a range of figures, skin tones, eye shades and hairstyles with the new Mattel Fashionista collection.

The new Barbie Fashionistas range is here! Barbie can breathe a sigh of relief as she ditches her weighing scale accessories, perhaps finally enjoying one of the cakes she’s been making in her Barbie Bakery.

Nickolay Lamm

Nickolay Lamm’s ‘Barbie’ next to an original Barbie doll

In 2013 artist and researcher Nickolay Lamm (creator of the Lammily doll) aimed to create ‘Barbie’ dolls based on the proportions of an average 19 year old woman. The intention was to create a doll with a body-positive image and even a normal-sized head. She was the kind of doll I’d have loved to own as a child, a doll that better represented me and could have been modelled on any girl I saw on the street. Lamm created the dolls using a 3D printer to show the world how unrealistic beauty standards are for women, demonstrating that women with real bodies are beautiful… and also make beautiful dolls.

If this doll had been a real girl, her waist would have measured 33 inches, compared with Mattel Barbie’s 18 inches. The rest of her body had much more authentic proportions, too. She just looked normal, and she looked great.

This was a look I could never imagine Mattel producing. Barbie may be 56 years old but her image over the years has barely changed. Created by Ruth Handler and first released in 1959, Barbie was tall and slim from the offset and has been the centre of plenty of controversy. In 1965 “Slumber Party” Barbie came with a Barbie-sized pair of scales set to around 110 lbs and a book titled “How to Lose Weight” with the advice “Don’t Eat!” printed on one of the tiny pages. The term “Barbie Syndrome” has even been used to describe a desire to have a physical appearance and lifestyle representative of the doll herself.

Imagine my surprise when I saw Barbie’s latest makeover! Following years of criticism surrounding the proportions of their dolls, Mattel have released Barbie dolls in a variety of shapes, sizes and skin tones in their new “Fashionistas” range.

In their new range Mattel will offer dolls in “curvy”, “petite” and “tall” as well as the original size. They will also be available in twenty-two eye colours and twenty-four hairstyles, with different colours and textures.

barbie tweet

My personal preference is for the ‘curvy’ Barbie Fashionista with bigger calves. I always hated the shape of my legs when growing up, and before I ever saw celebrities and models in fashion magazines, I saw Barbie. Perhaps having a more body-positive influence from my childhood toys would have helped me to realise how perfectly normal it is for girls to be different shapes and sizes.

Now Barbie can be seen posing for the cover of TIME magazine, unveiling her new look with the headline “Now can we stop talking about my body?” An in-depth feature in the magazine details the motivation behind the new range, as well as a statement about Barbie as an icon to young generations.

When Mattel arranged focus groups and welcomed opinions on what their new Barbies should look like, the no.1 request from mothers was that Barbie should have a more realistic body. Other suggestions for improvements and variants included less make-up, more modest clothing and more mobility (that is, more articulation so that Barbie could perform normal actions like kicking a football or climbing a tree). Parental focus seemed to be on buying more “wholesome” toys for their children.

Unsurprisingly, girls who attended the focus group wanted to see more dolls who looked like them in terms of height, skin tone, body shape and hair. Kids also particularly loved the new blue-haired doll, many of them dubbing her “Katy Perry”.

Barbie is likely to continue to be a source of controversy until – as the TIME magazine cover feature suggests – no-one wants to talk about her body at all. However, reaction to Barbie’s body-positive makeover has generally been very positive. There has been questioning of the use of the word ‘curvy’ but all those positive reactions range from sheer joy to a feeling that if baby steps must be taken, at least they are steps.

Mattel themselves have been using the hashtag #TheDollEvolves to refer to Barbie’s new image. The new Fashionista range is not the first time Mattel have taken steps to ensure that Barbie is a more inclusive toy for everybody. Remember when last year we saw, for the first time, a boy playing with Barbies in an advert? Hopefully Mattel will keep adding to their collections, reflecting diversity and celebrating what makes each of us unique. Keep up the good work.