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In praise of Barbie

February 3rd, 2016

Mattel, the company responsible for the production of the Barbie toy line, recently released new designs for the dolls. In what is largely being considered the biggest change to the dolls in 57 years, Barbie will now come in seven different skin colors and, in what’s really making headlines, three different body types—tall, petite and curvy.

 

I’ve always been pretty critical of Barbie. I have a six-year-old sister to whom I play the role of a third parent, more or less, and I don’t approve of many aspects of the toy.

 

In 2014, Barbie was featured in a book, “I Can Be a Computer Engineer,” in which she downloads a virus onto two computers and has to have two male friends fix the computers for her. A few months ago, I was watching a Barbie movie with my sister, and every time Barbie faced some dilemma, she had to ask a male friend for help, or to save her.

 

Now, I’m all for teaching children to ask for help when they need it. That said, I also think self-reliance and independence ought to be taught.

 

And yes, my inner feminist would seriously prefer if Barbie didn’t need to ask a man for help anytime something bad happened.

 

I’ve also always been critical of Barbie’s shape. Yes, I know, it’s just a toy. But when we live in a society that says thin is better and aligns body weight with self-worth, it’s hard not to look down on Barbie, who has a breast-to-waist-to-hip ratio that is literally impossible.

 

It’s also hard to write Barbie off as “just a toy” when studies have been done correlating Barbie with poor self-images of the girls who play with her. Time cites a 2006 study finding that young girls who played with Barbie dolls felt the need to be thin; this compares to girls who did not play with Barbie dolls who did not express the same need. The abstract of the study, published in the Developmental Psychology journal, states that exposure to dolls with an unrealistically thin body size, such as Barbie, “may damage girls’ body image, which would contribute to an increased risk of disordered eating and weight cycling.”

 

Yikes.

 

Critics of the new Barbie designs have expressed the most distaste for curvy Barbie—my absolute favorite of them all. Some have remarked that she’s fat and encourages the intake of mass amounts of junk food and an unhealthy lifestyle, which is just ridiculous. Mattel is in no way encouraging obesity or anything of the like. Curvy Barbie has a sturdy, healthy build.

 

When the Lammily doll came out, featuring realistic body proportions and a variety of other natural features such as scars, acne and cellulite, I was extremely happy with it. Furthermore, when the Goldie Blox dolls came out, I was over the moon, since the dolls also come with a book about Goldie or her friends figuring out how to solve a problem, in addition to a STEM-based building project.

 

Needless to say, it was about time for Barbie to make some changes. We live in a diverse world, and that diversity needs to be celebrated. As a result, Mattel answered the demands of those calling for change. Barbie now features a variety shapes, sizes and races for children to grow up with, reflecting the diversity of the American woman in today’s world. It’s refreshing to see a massive corporation such as Mattel moving away from the standard blonde hair, blue-eyed Caucasian Barbie of the past and into the many faces of Barbie’s future.