Last semester, I worked on a semester-long project analyzing Barbie as a brand. We looked at problems they were having, things they were doing well, and opportunities for growth.
The obvious issue we saw with the brand right away was the negative perception of the Barbie doll in today’s society, whether that be the issue of unrealistic body proportions, or the stereotypical (and sexist) career choices for Barbie. The lack of Barbies in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math) careers was a specific criticism presented by consumer advocacy groups.
However, in October Barbie launch this campaign, the “You Can Be Anything” campaign, which was supported by the video below (it went viral within days).
This campaign encouraged a move away form those stereotypical “female” occupations and showcased an emphasis careers like: professor, soccer coach, and a high-power businesswoman. And because it was such a sweet video presenting such an up-to-date perspective from Barbie, it was received with rave reviews (AND this very same campaign introduced a wildly popular Computer Engineer Barbie).
In our analysis of Barbie, we saw this as a huge step in the right direction for the brand in dealing with those negative association regarding the portrayal of Barbie in the professional world. However, by the end of the semester when we presented our project there was still the issue of body image. We still saw it as a huge obstacle Barbie needed to tackle, and recommended that Barbie begin to produce more realistic dolls.
So, you can imagine my excitement today when I saw the news that Barbie was releasing new dolls with different body types- something brand new for them!
The new dolls come in a variety of hair colors, cuts, and textures, as well as with a variety of facial features and skin tones. But, most newsworthy was the introduction of the “tall,” “petite,” and “curvy dolls.”
The goal of these new dolls is for girls to be able to find Barbie dolls that they can see some of themselves in.
While I do think this is a great, long overdue, step in the right direction, I do have a few problems with this new line.
My main issue I have is that the “curvy” Barbie isn’t so much “curvy” proportions as much as the doll simply portrays a woman with an average weight. The original Barbie is still being portrayed as the “norm,” while the new curvy Barbie is seen as a heavier Barbie, which I think could still negatively impact a young girl’s body image.
In my opinion, the “curvy” Barbie should be rendered the norm, and the old, “original,” Barbie should be retired from the shelves. That would truly be a Barbie revolution.
Not to mention, from what it looks like, the tall and petite Barbies still have the classic unrealistic Barbie proportions. What’s the point in attempting to represent different body types and heights if most dolls still portray the same unrealistic weight?
I do think it’s fantastic that Barbie is implementing different facial features and hair textures, however. Better representing different cultures across Barbie dolls is a great way to include more girls and allow them to see themselves in the doll, rather than the blue-eyed, platinum hair model that has dominated for so long.
And while the height and weight additions to the dolls definitely need more tweaking before we can applaud Barbie, the attempt at representing more body types is absolutely a step in the right direction.
Barbie has such a powerful position in pop culture, and more importantly an influence on so many young girls spanning the globe. Let’s try to do right by those girls and get dolls on the shelf that don’t sell them a narrative of beauty that isn’t attainable.
The “curvy” doll is the first step. Keep it going.