Life in Plastic Is Not So Fantastic

For women in today’s society, the world is changing for the better. Plus-size models grace the covers of high fashion magazines, and brands such as Aerie no longer photoshop the models in their catalogs. Likewise, in an effort to catch up to these reforms, on March 1st, a new and much anticipated line of Barbie Dolls will make their world debut. (In Barbie’s defense, she can only move so fast in her heels.) Mattel, the toy company that created Barbie, spent the last two years working on a project under the codename “Project Dawn” to revamp the Barbie Doll that has been a prominent figure around the world since 1959. “Project Dawn’s” goal was to create a more realistic Barbie that accurately represented different kinds of women. The new line of dolls incorporates not only a range of different body shapes, including tall, petite, and curvy, but also a wide variety of skin colors and hairstyles.

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New Barbie Doll compared to an old Barbie Doll. Photo credit: TMZ

This revolutionary change is a result of the decline in Barbie Doll sales in the past few years.  Time Magazine reports that Barbie Doll sales dropped 20% from the years 2012 to 2014 alone, and Mattel lost approximately 500 million dollars from losing the rights to manufacture the Disney Princesses brand. Additionally, in 2014 Frozen’s Elsa Doll stole the top-selling doll spot from Barbie, and Lego overtook Mattel as the top-selling children’s toy brand in 2014. This decline is a direct result of recent widespread criticism surrounding Barbie’s unrealistic body proportions. In 2007, Gloria Slayen conducted a study which discovered that if Barbie were an actual woman, she would be 5’9″ tall, have a 39″ bust, an 18″ waist, 33″ hips and a size 3 shoe.

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Photo credit: Gloria Slayen

Furthermore, if Barbie were a real woman, she would be forced to walk on all fours because she would not be able to stand up properly. Mattel has previously described Barbie’s physique as a “full figure,” but at 5’9” tall and a weight 110 lbs., Barbie would have a dangerously low BMI of 16.24, which is anything except “full.” Slayen’s study rightfully angered many people and caused parents to search for alternative toys for their children to play with. In an article for CBS Local’s NYC site, parent Latifa Zyne said, “Little girls grow up thinking that Barbie’s tiny waist, large chest, absurdly long legs and lack of rib cage are how a woman is supposed to look and that’s a real problem… body image issues are life long struggles for girls that are exacerbated by images of impossible perfection pumped out by magazines, movies and commercials.”

When the new Barbie Dolls were first introduced to the public, Mattel’s CEO, Richard Dickson, stated that Mattel made the additions because “Barbie reflects the world girls see around them.” However, the buying public has been diverse in size and stature for decades, and Mattel playing catch-up seems more like a sales strategy than a genuine attempt to represent their customers. Other dolls, such as the Monster High dolls, Bratz dolls, and American Girl dolls are already available in a wide variety of skin tones and hair types. Sharon Lamb, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, says, “I don’t think they can revive Barbie sales through this or make one bit of difference in the lives of girls.” Lamb has a point. For decades, Mattel has failed to reflect the world surrounding its consumers. Even in a society where women who do not fit the Barbie mold, such as Adele, Beyoncé, and Kim Kardashian, can not only thrive, but be considered among the most beautiful women in world, Barbie still remained the same slim, blonde, blue-eyed doll that she was in 1959. It took the endangerment of the long-standing success of the Barbie Doll to finally initiate change.

The new Barbie Doll may be taking steps to communicate to young girls and boys that there is not only one way to be beautiful, but Mattel still does not have the best interests of today’s girls and boys at heart. The company simply came to the realization that branding something as empowering is a great marketing tool, and they are likely to profit from the fact that four different Barbie bodies means four times the sets of clothing and accessories. While Barbie may be more realistic looking now than at any other point in her 57 years, her changes are superficial, and Mattel is still thinking inside the pink box.

Featured image courtesy of mattel.com.

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About the author

Kate Kinder is a junior at Collegiate