I loved playing with Barbies as a young girl. They had fun clothes, a cool pink convertible, and a killer shoe collection. But even at 8 years old, I had doubts about Barbie. No one looks like that in real life- her waist is so small and her legs are so long, I remember thinking. But I shrugged it off, put Barbie and friends in her convertible, and they were off to the mall to buy more shoes.
When I was older, others used the term “looking like a Barbie” alternately as a term of derision/jealousy towards others, or an impossible standard that they wanted to achieve. Now there’s nothing wrong with being naturally thin, but Barbie’s proportions are something you would never see in real life. If I had a daughter, would she see the way Barbie looked as normal or something to aspire to? Would I let her play with Barbies? I was conflicted. I knew that I had enjoyed playing with Barbies as a child, but I also knew the quiet sadness of disordered eating and having a distorted body image. To some people, what a Barbie looks like may seem like no big deal, but the world needs dolls that have more realistic bodies in a culture where “40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight” and “42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.”
So I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Mattel has (finally) widened the definition of what it means to be a “Barbie.” Back in March of 2016, they started selling dolls that come in more sizes/heights, skin tones, and hair colors/textures than were previously offered:
With dolls like these, if my daughter said, “I want to look like Barbie,” that wouldn’t be a bad thing. I wouldn’t have to tell her, “that’s not possible/healthy/realistic.”
Now I haven’t been in a toy store in a long time, but in the past, one of the few doll lines that got this right was American Girl (which ironically, is owned by Mattel). American Girl dolls come in a realistic body size and have a variety of eye/hair colors, skin tones, and hair textures to choose from. The only drawback with American Girl dolls is their price- while they are a high quality item, they start at around $115.00. The new Barbies start at $9.99, meaning that a much wider group of girls can enjoy having dolls that look like them and that have more realistic bodies.
A few of the new dolls:
You can read the USA Today article about them here.
What do you think of the new Barbies?
Images from USA Today and Google image search.
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