Barbie has been getting makeovers for almost 60 years now, but her newest one could also be the most important we’ve seen in a long time. Mattel announced that, starting tomorrow, consumers will have access to a more evolved Barbie, who will come in four body types and seven different skin tones.
The new body types are “tall,” “curvy” and “petite,” and consumers will be able to pick from 24 hairstyles and 22 eye colors alongside the new range of skin tones. Not that you can’t still buy an “original” Barbie if that’s your jam. You still totally can, but these new dolls are part of Mattel’s effort to bring Barbie into the current century, and we’re happy kids (and adults) will finally have the option. Starting at $10, these are no “special edition” Barbies; they’re just straight-up Barbies, and they’re actually going to be accessible.
The toy company released a video with the announcement of the changes it was making to its 2016 Fashionistas line that is equal parts “d’awww” and “duh, that’s what everyone has been telling you for years!”
America has had a love/hate relationship with Barbie for a long, long time. On the one hand, she’s been the go-to doll of choice for generations, has all the good clothing and has so many terminal degrees that she’s held down every job from astronaut to ambassador of world peace. On the other, she’s always been problematic in a major way: She’s so skinny that her organs wouldn’t fit inside her body, and good luck finding a Barbie with any melanin in her skin.
She’s also made some less-than-flattering headlines in recent years, with that awful book about Barbie’s foray into game development and before that, her ill-advised Sports Illustrated cover. Mattel’s last attempt at freshening up the line was “Hello Barbie,” a kind of creepy Wi-Fi-enabled doll that went over like a fart in a wetsuit.
We never wanted a stalker doll for our kids to mutter to during playtime. We’ve only wanted her to come join us in 2016 and for Mattel to be a little more open to the idea of Barbies that come in all shapes and sizes. There was definitely a niche for it; all you have to do is look at the growing popularity of the Lammily dolls to see that.
That’s why this new line of dolls presents such a cool opportunity for the kids who love Barbie. The doll has long been one of the first exposures that they get to standards of beauty, and when that standard was singular — tall, micro-waisted and white as the driven snow — it left so many types of beauty on the table. Barbie could be anything she wanted: She was even the leader of the free world, for Chrissake. But the one thing she couldn’t be was someone who looked like you. Which, intentional or not, sends the message that, someone who looks like you? They can’t be anything they want to be.
There are plenty of parents who are sure to welcome putting that idea to bed. But there’s another important thing the new dolls offer a new generation of kids. In the marketing video, girl after girl points out who the doll looks like: “This one looks like me,” “This one looks like my mom,” “This one looks like my friend.” It’s beyond fantastic that kids will be able to snatch up a Barbie who looks just like them, but it’s also beneficial that they can include the ones who don’t look like them right alongside the ones that do.
Wanting your kids to grow up accepting and celebrating the many different people and cultures they will inhabit the world with is noble enough, but it requires more than just espousing those beliefs. It requires implementing them, and that just got much easier to do.