THE EVOLUTION OF BARBIE | fivethreeninety

Last Thursday, 28th January, Barbie made headlines, trending topics and a TIME Magazine cover. This was because, after years of being accused of promoting an unhealthy body image, Mattel introduced the Barbie Fashionistas™ Dolls. Releasing over time throughout 2016, the line includes four body types, seven skin tones, twenty-two eye colours, twenty-four hairstyles and “countless on-trend fashions and accessories”.

This is amazing. Finally there is a mainstream product marketed towards almost every type of girl. Heights, size, skin tones, hair and eye colour now have such a wide range that any person can find any type of girl they desire, whether it be in their own likeness or another’s.

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I have loved Barbie’s from a young age. Some of my earliest memories are of sneaking out of bed in the night to go pick one or two dolls to take back to bed and play when I was meant to be sleeping. Me and my sister used to trek our Barbie’s through the tall grass of our garden and pretend they were travellers who’s plane had crash landed in the jungle, or sit up by the sewing machine with our mum to fashion our own clothes for them. At one point, we even planned to make a Barbie horror movie, complete with a written storyline, assigned parts and smeared red lipstick on several dolls (maybe I should revive that project).

It’s about time Barbie produced this line. And whilst I am so, so proud to be witnessing them make this finally make this move, the fight on Barbie’s appearance has been frustrating. Yes, Barbie did need representation of all body types and races, but all the extreme backlash focusing on that drowned out all the amazing things that Barbie already taught. Yes, Barbie was a tall, skinny, blonde haired and blue eyed girl but she was also the girl who looked after her younger sisters, was a vet, a doctor, a pilot, a model, a charity organiser, a singer, a chef, an army officer, a teacher, a firefighter, an astronaut – even the President of the United States. Wikipedia even has a page dedicated solely to her careers, of which she has over one hundred and fifty. The whole idea of Barbie was that she could be anything, so that you knew you could be anything too.

But I am well aware that I am incredibly fortunate in that way, and that as a Caucasian I wouldn’t have felt unrepresented. I was privileged enough to not experience the feelings so many children – and adults – feel every day due to the lack of representation of their race. As a child I was blonde, tall with fair skin. Barbie did not give me negative body image as a child. And I never realised how lucky I was to be in that position until I was older. I was also incredibly lucky to be brought up in a way that body type meant nothing. I wasn’t conditioned to consider the ideal body image a tall and skinny one until later in my life, but I know that again, many people weren’t like that, and saw Barbie as a figure society deemed best.

So now I am ecstatic that people all around the world can experience the effect of Barbie as I did as a child, without feeling unrelatable to the doll. These thirty three new looks for the Barbie doll is absolutely the start of a new era for representation in mainstream children’s toys, and though it’s late, I’m honoured to be able to be able to see it happen.

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You can find the new Barbie Fashionistas Dolls here.

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