election hero images copy

Barbie's New Look

You probably haven’t played with Barbie dolls in a while, but that doesn’t mean Barbie isn’t around anymore. Back when you played with Barbie, she had a very specific look: tall, slim and blonde. Every Barbie doll looked relatively similar, despite the various careers Barbie took on. Sometimes Barbie was a pet vet, and other times she was a stay-at-home mom. Barbie the pediatrician, the dentist, and the TV chef were almost always seen in a short, skin-tight dress with her legs fully exposed and her feet already pointed to slip into a pair of heels. No matter what her career was, Barbie wore a similar uniform, and she was known for being a skinny white woman with blue eyes and long, blonde hair. 

However, Mattel’s new line of Barbie dolls, Barbie Fashionistas, is the most inclusive, diverse line yet. With 176 dolls, 9 body types, 94 hairstyles and 35 skin tones, Barbie lovers are bound to find a doll they can relate to. The line includes dolls who are wheelchair users or have a prosthetic limb. Some dolls have afros, while others have braids, or pastel-colored hair. The dolls may be petite, while others are curvy. There’s even a doll with the skin condition vitiligo, which causes a loss of skin color in blotches. Barbie no longer represents hegemonic femininity using her hourglass figure, white skin and luscious blonde hair to attract the male gaze. Instead, she represents a long list of identities to connect with her diverse fanbase.

The line also includes male dolls with various body types and skin tones. Ken used to be known as Barbie’s muscular arm candy. He was her accessory to a fancy gala or the father figure in Barbie’s nuclear family. As Barbie undergoes a complete makeover, Ken does too. Ken isn’t just a straight-passing, white male with chiseled abs and broad shoulders anymore. He comes in different races with a range of body types. He can have a larger figure, a slender figure, long hair, or a man-bun. Together, Barbie and Ken can be any race and any identity - thanks to Mattel’s all-inclusive initiative. 

According to the 2018 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, about 42% of the population is non-white. The 2017 Disability Statistics Annual Report says 5.6% of the U.S. population between the ages of 5-17 have some form of disability. Before Barbie Fashionistas, Barbie dolls only represented a portion of the nation’s population who played with the dolls. Non-white children, children with disabilities, and children of any minority identity rarely saw toys that represented them. When they went to Toys “R” Us for a new doll, they only saw an able-bodied white woman with blue eyes, blonde hair and a tiny waist. A lack of inclusivity conditions young people to believe that if they do not fit the mold of the widely represented identities, they are not normal or not beautiful in the eyes of the world.

Although Barbie Fashionistas does not solve every issue of cultural representation in our society, the dolls are a leap in the right direction. Mattel has also launched a line of dolls in honor of Black History Month and another line called the Inspiring Women Series. There’s even a new gender-neutral doll line called Creatable World, in which children can customize their own character to look however they want. Creatable World dolls give kids the opportunity to play with gender expression and discover their own identities through fashion and hair styling.

When Barbie came into the world 60 years ago, she was a completely different person. Her message, however, remains the same: young people can be anything they want to be. The all-inclusive dolls finally give children the opportunity to see themselves represented by their favorite toy.