When we think of Barbie, we imagine the traditional, slim figure with blond hair and tight, fashionable clothes. Many young girls have grown up with an idealized image of how a girl “should look” based on Barbie’s appearance. However, Mattel, the company that produces the famous doll, has created three new Barbie figures — petite, tall and curvy — that will offer the first significant change to the doll in its 57-year history. I am glad to see the change that Mattel is bringing to the doll that originally offered a narrow perception of beauty. Being young and learning that society has certain expectations and standards of beauty is a rude awakening for many young people — by creating new dolls that do not have unachievable standards, I believe that Mattel will be making the transition slightly easier for girls who once looked to Barbie as the be all and end all.
Barbie has encountered controversy in its run as America’s popular doll. According to TIME, a 1963 teen Barbie was sold with a diet book telling girls not to eat. Additionally, there were catchphrases such as, “Math class is tough” that were pre-programmed into the doll. It is important that the new dolls today emphasize the importance of confidence in young girls. Whether that confidence is in embracing your body as it is or not contributing to the false notion that certain academic classes ought to be gendered — Barbie has a responsibility to appeal to all audiences and not create insecurities or fuel sexism.
Mattel has made the argument in the past that Barbie has had jobs like businesswoman and astronaut at times when women were reduced to being housewives. However, the company has also stated that they do not believe that Barbie influences body image concerns among young girls. I disagree with the assertion, as does a 2006 study published in the journal Developmental Psychology. According to TIME, “[The study] found that girls exposed to Barbie at a young age expressed greater concern with being thin, compared with those exposed to other dolls.” Girls need to be exposed to dolls that focus less on being a certain body type. When you see how admired someone is for looking a certain way that you do not or cannot emulate, the effect that it has can be severe, especially at the most formative years of your life.
Mattel’s decision to include more body types in the new Barbie models is important and a decision that I fully support. In a society that imposes restrictions and rules on how young girls should act, dress and behave, it is time that one of the oldest American symbols of beauty is redefined to show that beauty is not in a body type — it is in a person.