Barbie Models: Diversity or Brand Strategy?

The stereotypical blonde, skinny, blue-eyed Barbie is a thing of the past as the company moves to more diverse dolls.

The first Barbie was manufactured in 1959 and usually portrayed in predominately male-driven careers such as astronauts, pilots, scientists and more. However, Barbie has not always been shown in diverse body types and skin tones.

Barbie typically conjures up a tall, blonde and blue-eyed doll with impossible proportions. Rehabs.com, a resource for people looking for treatment centers for eating disorders, conducted research in 2013 on how media and dolls influence a young girl’s impressions of her body and how it informs their thinking of what they need to look like.  They concluded that if Barbie were a real woman she would be five feet nine inches tall with a 16-inch waist. The proportions of a Barbie doll as a real woman would mean that Barbie would be incapable of lifting her head due to her neck proportions, she would have to work on all fours due to her foot size and top heavy weight distribution and she would have room for half a liver and a few inches of intestine due to her small waist. These body proportions are harmful for young girls to see and idealize.

Mattel has since embraced new body types in order to embrace a diversity of body sizes. In 2016, the company created a plus-size Barbie modeled after Ashley Graham.

The same year, the company areleased a new line of Fashionista Dolls that include four body types, seven skin tones, 22 eye colors, and 24 hairstyles, showcasing a much more diverse Barbie universe.

And now, the next step in diversity for Barbie? A hijab-wearing doll.

The new doll modeled after Ibtihaj Muhammad, first U.S. Olympic fencer to compete in the head scarf, was announced this week.

Since embracing diversity in its dolls, the company has seen a growth in sales that it had previously been slipping. Senior vice president at Mattel, Lisa McKnight, said that the goal of diversifying the doll was to win back parents turned off by the impossible and highly-criticized beauty standard Barbie had previously set. McKnight said that Barbie’s sales rose seven percent to $971.8 million in 2016.

Barbie is no longer the doll you used to play with when you were a kid. She represents more body types, races, religious beliefs, and that makes everyone unique.

What do you think of the new line of Barbies?

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