Thanks for celebrating women with new Barbies, Mattel. Now make them normal size.
In honor of International Women’s Day, the toy giant Mattel is releasing a new batch of Barbies based on real-life women who can only be called “sheroes.” But even sheroes need a little meat on their bones.
“Barbie is committed to shining a light on empowering role models past and present in an effort to inspire more girls,” Mattel said in a news release announcing the new group of 17 dolls. The new figures are based on a series of women from around the globe of different nationalities, ethnicities, races, cultures and vocations, all of who have made a difference in the world. They are listed as either sheroes or “inspiring women,” such as aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, NASA mathematician and physicist Katherine Johnson and artist Frida Kahlo.
The 2018 sheroes include boxing champion Nicola Adams, fashion designer and entrepreneur Vicky Martin Berrocal, chef Hélène Darroze, soccer player Sara Gama, actress and philanthropist Xiaotong Guan, conservationist Bindi Irwin, Wonder Woman filmmaker Patty Jenkins, snowboarding champion Chloe Kim, windsurfer Çağla Kubat, golfer Lorena Ochoa, designer and entrepreneur Leyla Piedayesh, volleyball champion Hui Ruoqi, ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan and journalist Martyna Wojciechowska. You can link to the accomplishments of all these women at the online news release.
These accomplished women join other Barbies inspired by women of note of past years, including gymnastics champion Gabby Douglas, film director Ava DuVernay, ballerina Misty Copeland, and fencing champion Ibtihaj Muhammad. Mattel started its Barbie sheroes series in 2015.
Now, a few of these dolls, such as the Barbie based on model and body activist Ashley Graham, who gained fame by breaking the stereotype of the skin-and-bones mannequin and being a “curvy model,” a term she prefers over “plus-size,” have more realistic proportions. There is some height difference, too, in these new models. But most of them have the dimensions that could still fit into all of the skinny Barbie fashions, from the slinky black sequined “Solo in the Spotlight” gown to every bikini Barbie ever wore to the pool in her Dream House.
Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens wasn’t thrilled with the look of the new dolls, saying, “they couldn’t house a vital organ among them.”
Remember those charts a few years back that showed how Barbie’s proportions would translate if she were a real woman? She’d have a 16-inch waist, according to one chart, which would be 4 inches thinner than her head and leave room for only half a liver. Her wrists would be 3.5 inches around, her ankles would be 6 inches around, and she’d likely have to walk on all fours.
Which seem like some major impediments to the feats accomplished by Earhart, the first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, Kahlo, a legendary artist, and Johnson, a mathematician hired by NASA to calculate the trajectory of the first American-manned flight into space. …
Creating the Inspiring Women dolls ($29.99 each) with more realistic proportions would have meant other Barbie clothing and accessories wouldn’t fit them, which may have struck designers as limiting.
But it would have been symbolic and powerful to use this new series as a line in the sand — a moment to say, “Real women in history deserve realistic body types. Here you go.”
Here is an interview Stevens did on the subject, in which all three women agreed that Mattel missed a major opportunity.
The study about Barbie’s unrealistic dimensions cited by Stevens was sponsored by Rehabs.com in 2013. Rather than just dump on Mattel, the study drew attention to eating disorders, including anorexia, and the fact that too many girls obsess about their weight and body image. Rehabs.com seems to be a for-profit company with rehabilitation centers for alcohol, drug, and behavioral disorders, including eating disorders. So even if its motives in the study were to increase business, that doesn’t make the conclusions any different.
An even bigger reason for the almost-one-size-fits-all-Barbies is that, with the millions of Barbies sold, Mattel needs a standard manufacturing process so that Barbie doll molds can be used interchangeably. Having several of them in multiple sizes would cost more. And some changes have been made: In 1998, Barbie’s waist actually grew bigger, and her bust grew smaller.
Mattel says it chose the new figures after polling 8,000 mothers around the globe and finding that “86% of moms surveyed are worried about the kind of role models their daughters are exposed to.” It adds, “Barbie honors women who have broken boundaries in their fields and have been an inspiration to the next generation of girls with a one-of-a-kind doll made in their likeness.”
Fair enough, and laudable. Girls need more and better role models from all walks of life, and from all over the world. It’s moving to see dolls in all different skin tones, with every color and texture of hair, sometimes even covered with a head scarf. But it would be even healthier to expand the manufacturing process to include dolls of more normal size.
There’s no doubt that Barbie is big — make that YUGE — business. According to Mattel’s “Fast Facts About Barbie” page:
- Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts (who knew?)
- Barbie stands 11.5 inches tall.
- Barbie has had more than 180 “inspirational” careers.
- Barbie is the most popular fashion doll ever produced, and the brand continues to dominate sales in the fashion doll segment with gross sales in 2014 of $1.01 billion worldwide.
- Although she has never won an election, Barbie has run for president six times.
COME ON, MATTEL. You can do better than that. Couldn’t we at least have a Gov. Barbie or Mayor Barbie, or something?
It’s been decades since I played with a Barbie doll, and it was never my go-to choice of plaything anyway. My strongest memory of playing with Barbie was when a friend discovered that some—not all—of Barbie’s clothes actually fit the Ken doll, too. Was some toy designer deep within Mattel having a little fun at the public’s expense? Or were they more open-minded than we thought? I guess we’ll never know.
Our two daughters were never big Barbie aficionados, either. I know they both received one each as birthday gifts, but some of their friends looked down their noses when the girls admitted that they had only one Barbie. Whereas we used to change Barbie’s outfits depending on our chosen adventure for the fashion doll, apparently as years passed, that practice morphed into the need to have multiple Barbies, each with their own outfits, hairstyles, and career choices. No, our girls cast the Barbies aside and instead turned their vast collection of stuffed animals into opposing armies (they were “Beanie Baby Wars” in our house), supposedly to determine whether cats or dogs would achieve world domination. As I recall, the outcomes were usually a draw.
But back to the Barbie sheroes. To be fair, many of the women used as Barbie models were thrilled with Mattel’s new emphasis on women empowerment, unrealistic body types be damned.
So thanks, Mattel. Let’s celebrate women’s accomplishments all month—and every month! But let’s remember that most women come in all sizes and shapes, not just those who fit into a size zero bathing suit.