Little girls the world over have idolized Barbie’s iconic figure – slim waist, long legs, flowing blonde hair – for nearly six decades.
And while toy maker Mattel has at times tried to create more “realistic” looking Barbies, none has ever come close to resembling the women in my family or my community, until now.
In late 2015, designers at Mattel launched three new Barbie body types: curvy, petite, and tall, along with new hairstyles and skin colors that reflect the diversity of 21st century America. Barbie’s figure is no longer unrealistically perfect — sorry, B!
With Mattel’s new line, young girls can now play with a doll that hits closer to home; shapes that they can identify within themselves. And it’s definitely something I wish I had as a young girl.
Barbie pops up in almost all of my greatest childhood memories. Growing up with three sisters, nearly every Christmas we each expected a couple of new dolls under the tree. Even my mother collected limited edition Barbie dolls, specifically Filipina Barbies dressed as contestants in a Filipino beauty pageant. They were part of Mattel’s “Dolls of the World” and “Global Glamour” collections, where Barbie would be dressed to represent different cultures or different nationalities.
I loved the idea, too, but when I looked closer I noticed the dolls still had the same face, thin body, and hair type. While these limited edition Barbies were meant to make girls like me feel pride in our culture, instead they turned culture into a caricature.
To its credit, Mattel did produce Barbie’s first black friend, Christie, in 1968. Then the toy giant released a new line of black Barbie dolls in 2009, but again, many criticized the doll’s thin frame and straight hair.
A 2006 American Psychological Association (APA) study of 6 to 8-year-old girls showed that many had significantly lower body esteem after being exposed to Barbie images.
That was the case for high school student and president of the Female Leadership Academy Chloe Weatherspoon. “Playing with the Barbie doll often made me feel self-conscious … being an African-American female, I didn’t connect with the doll and I didn’t know how I should perceive myself,” Weatherspoon says.
Weatherspoon adds she felt insecure about her looks, height, and weight. “Barbie limited our young women to one option, one choice.”
Now Mattel is expanding those options and health experts say Barbie’s makeover is good for young girls’ esteem.
Ejiro Ntekume, with the Long Beach Polytechnic High School’s Health Corps., says the new dolls will help “expand ideas of what [young girls] see as ‘beautiful’. Now they will be able to see the beauty in being themselves.”
Even my 12-year-old sister is thrilled about the change. When I showed her the new Barbie dolls she immediately noticed the African-American Barbie. “Haven’t you seen my dolls?” she asked, “they’re all white.”
Half Filipina and half African American, it’s hard for my sister to feel encompassed by her current Barbie collection. It’s not even about race – it’s about self-image. I’ve witnessed first hand how hard it is for her to feel beautiful with her amazing full head of curls and great curves. Telling your 12-year-old sister she’s beautiful in this society is harder than you think.
Which is why the new Barbie doll is a HUGE step in the right direction.
As a teenage girl living in the western part of Long Beach, I can definitely say that all women are different, and that’s a beautiful thing! Being confident in your own skin is key, and the new and improved Barbie is helping more than she knows.