After years of public demand, Mattel have finally released a line of Barbie dolls with diverse body types. The new dolls represent curvy, petite and tall female body types, in addition to the unrealistically slender original Barbie doll.
It is well-founded that the idealised image of beauty perpetuated by Barbie is detrimental for young girls, causing low self-esteem, eating disorders and other body-image related issues. This occurs within a culture of slenderness, where we’re bombarded with media messages reminding us that we can never be thin enough. Research has found that exposure to the doll can cause body dissatisfaction in young girls, and for children, this comes at an age where they are becoming critical of their bodies and developing the facility of self-comparison. The idealised image of beauty perpetuated by the original Barbie (slim, white, blonde and able-bodied) causes difficulties for girls in developing strong self-esteem as the image is incoherent with their self-perception.
Last year Barbie dolls with eight new skin colours and 14 different facial structures were introduced to the brand, demonstrating a move towards racial and ethnic diversity. In addition, Mattel also introduced a Barbie doll with moveable ankles, allowing her to wear flat shoes. This suggests a slight broadening of the feminine ideal perpetuated by the doll’s image.
However, whilst there have been some moves over time to produce dolls that are reflective of real women (after years of public dissatisfaction), it seems that the changes are simply widening the goalposts of idealised femininity and beauty, opposed to overthrowing them. They fail to be genuinely representative of everyday women with, for example, a complete absence of disability. The dolls still ultimately reflect traditional beauty standards, with perfect hair and skin, whilst promoting the acceptance of slightly more diverse body types and ethnicity. The issue with the new dolls is that they are so close to the image of idealised beauty, that they are inevitably going to be accepted. However, the changes are not broad enough to truly widen the definition of beauty that is reflective of real women.
We think it is imperative to note, however, that women and girls should not be denied fun or enjoyment through associating with Barbie. Barbie can teach us important lessons about beauty, authenticity, creativity and how to be critical – a skill which is fundamental to building the resilience of women and girls under the scrutiny of beauty standards in society today.
Okay, the new Barbie line is more diverse and relatable than the original, but each doll still represents idealised beauty, and this move by Mattel is simultaneous with the diversification of model body types in fashion (well done trend spotters). We want a revolution not leniency in beauty standards!
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Should we stick with Barbie or encourage girls to use the Lamilly doll? What are the significant changes you want to see? Does Ken need a makeover too?
Written by Holly C