It’s not hyperbole to say that for most of the now-60-plus years that Barbie has been a household name, the fashion doll represented a prototypically feminine, Eurocentric beauty standard that was largely unattainable for its increasingly diverse, predominantly young female fanbase. But in recent years, parent company Mattel has steadily been working to make Barbie’s brand more inclusive; increasing representation of race, body type, hairstyles and abilities across the range of dolls in its Fashionistas line. According to Senior Vice President and Global Head of Barbie and Dolls Portfolio, Lisa McKnight, the investment is paying off.
“We are proud that Barbie is the most diverse doll line on the market that continues to evolve to better reflect the world girls see around them,” says McKnight in a statement provided to The Glow Up. “Our commitment to better reflect the world drives a powerful conversation, and we know our efforts are resonating with eight consecutive quarters of growth and the Fashionistas category up double digits in 2019.”
For 2020, they’re pushing the inclusive ethos even further, adding even more unique features to their assortment of dolls, including one with the skin condition vitiligo, a darker-skinned doll with a fashion-forward prosthetic leg (the second variation of Barbie with a prosthesis), and—despite Barbie’s famed association with long, flowing hair—even a bald Barbie (while Ken finally gets a full mane). As explained in a release:
Over the past five years, the line has evolved to be more reflective of the world girls see around them by introducing more than 170+ new looks. For 2020, Barbie is continuing the journey to represent global diversity and inclusivity in the fashion doll aisle by showcasing a multi-dimensional view of beauty and fashion by adding: a doll with skin condition vitiligo, a doll with no hair, a doll with a darker skin tone that uses a gold prosthetic limb, Ken with long rooted hair (all for the first time).
As the brand states, their current mission is to “continue to redefine what it means to be a ‘Barbie’ or look like Barbie, [which] allows kids to play out even more stories they see in the world around them.”
In developing their new doll options, the Barbie team used a collaborative approach; for instance, consulting with a dermatologist to accurately represent the appearance of vitiligo. And after introducing their first dolls with permanent disabilities in 2019—a collaboration with then-12-year-old disabilities activist Jordan Reeves—they’ve now added a second doll with a prosthetic limb, this time in a darker skin tone.
And while they certainly couldn’t have planned it, mere weeks after Rep. Ayanna Pressley revealed (exclusively via The Glow Up) that she has alopecia and is currently bald, there is now a Barbie that potentially reflects that experience (or those who electively choose to be bald). “If a girl is experiencing hair loss for any reason, she can see herself reflected in the line,” the brand explains. Pressley herself lauded the doll on Twitter, writing, “[Thank you] for creating new hair loss #barbie, #Mattel.”
Though some may refer to Barbie’s more inclusive ethos as “a bid for diversity,” (we’re looking at you, CNN), “the brand’s efforts on diversity and inclusivity [are] resonating,” says Mattel, which can now boast that over half of all dolls offered in 2019 had diverse qualities, including 7 out of 10 of its bestselling Fashionista styles. In fact, “the top-selling doll for almost every week in 2019 was a curvy black fashionista with an afro hairstyle,” says the brand.
It may seem a small thing, but as a childhood Barbie lover who never saw herself reflected in her own favorite toys, it’s exciting to consider the implications for the children who now can.