Dolls should represent all children


Malibu Barbie better move over because there’s a new girl — and guy — in town. Mattel, the makers of the Barbie doll, released a new line of Barbies called “Fashionistas” that come in tall, petite, curvy and “original” body types. The new line also includes seven different skin tones, 22 eye colors and 24 different types of hair. Ken got a part in the new look as well. All of these changes are in an effort to create a more diversified look for Barbie. 

For years Mattel has been under fire for creating an unrealistic ideal for young girls. People have argued that the proportions of the original Barbie doll are unrealistic and one-dimensional. Some have even gone as far as to say that by playing with these dolls as a child, girls grow up to have a poor body image. 

As a child, I always loved Barbie dolls despite my mom’s resistance against me playing with stereotypical “girl” toys (she thought they were shallow and a waste oftime). Nonetheless, I gravitated towards dolls and Barbies like a bee to flowers. I would spend hours on end in my room with my Barbies creating long, detailed and elaborate story lines for each of them. I would play out all of the situations that I could possibly imagine with them. I dressed them in all kinds of outfits and I would even cut their hair to make them lookthe exact way that I wanted. Although I didn’t realize this then, the countless hours I spent playing with my dolls were actually preparing me for life as an adult. 

Researchers have found that child’s play is actually the child’s work. When children roleplay with toys, such as dolls, they are testing out situations and creating reactions that they might encounter in a safe, controlled environment. According to the Child Development Institute, “The most important role that play can have is to help children to be active, make choices and practice actions to mastery.”

 It only makes sense that the object — in this case dolls — should reflect a representation of how the child playing with them can envision themselves. I had the privilege of envisioning myself in doll form as a doctor, vet, mom, business owner, and so on because Barbie’s skin tone was the same as my own, but I never felt my body would ever be like Barbie’s. I can only imagine the incredibly disproportionate mental adjustment a child of color, a child with disabilities or any other child who does not fit the “original” Barbie look would have to do to envision themselves through their dolls.

 I do not think that every child deeply internalizes their differences with Barbie when playing with this toy, but I do think it sends a subconscious message that you are different from your toy and that she is what you should aspire to be. It’s only logical that a global empire, such as Mattel, should be producing Barbie dolls that come in many more forms than a tall, skinny, white doll. In the past the company has tried to introduce a few variations in skin and hair, but now the effort is much more noticeable. I applaud this as a beginning effort to normalize all skin tones, ethnicities and body types for doll manufacturers. Every child who plays with dolls should be able to have one that they identify with and with which they can play out their own future situations and dreams.