Barbie Dolls: bigger is now better

Photo courtesy of Konrad Summers

By Kat Stowe-Thurston

This year, toy company Mattel revealed a new line of Barbie dolls with some dramatic differences from traditional Barbie. Although these changes were made from a place of corporate interest to keep the brand afloat in the strengthening societal currents of social justice, they are a positive step in making the dolls more representative of real girls and women.

In the 56 years since her inception, Barbie has done a lot of things. She has been everything from a businesswoman to a veterinarian, an astronaut and an olympic swimmer. Now with the release of the updated collection, Barbie is doing something even more radical: she’s gaining some weight.

Although Barbies have been a wildly popular girls’ toy since they hit the market in 1959, their slender waists, arched feet and disproportionate breasts have always been an area of much discussion and criticism. Barbie’s unrealistic figure has been accused of adding to the social pressure on girls to be skinny and beautiful, making them more susceptible to harmful behaviors, such as disordered eating in the pursuit of her idealized body. In 1998 her waist was made wider and her chest smaller in response to these concerns, but Barbie’s figure remained an object of criticism nonetheless.

Has Mattel finally realized the negative effects that their product might be having on young girls and their self image during their formative childhood years? Have they decided to design a new Barbie to help girls feel more comfortable in their own skin? I find it unlikely. Barbie going up a dress size is good for business. Today’s consumers are getting more and more concerned with social issues, and the brand had to make a change to their image if they wanted to stay relevant among millennials as they begin to have families and become a larger part of the brand’s consumer base.

Commercial reasons for Barbie’s new body type aside, the change is no doubt a positive one. Girls young and old are constantly bombarded with messages about how their bodies should look. The media sets unrealistic standards for girls, and the cosmetic and diet industries feed into and profit off of their insecurities. With all the airbrushing and retouching, and the ever narrowing beauty standard, it can be hard for real girls to look to the media and see people like them. With the addition of Curvy Barbies, more and more girls will start to see themselves represented in the brand.

Curvy Barbie is not the only new Barbie being added to the collection. Mattel is also adding a taller Barbie and a petite Barbie, and earlier in 2015 more skin tones, as well as hair colors and textures were added. One could argue, though, that Curvy Barbie is one of the most radical Barbies because she is the first to deviate from the classic dolls body type, and Barbie’s weight has been a point of contention for such a long time. 

The diversification of the Barbie line, for whatever reasons, is a move that will help to empower girls of many different body types. Now when girls see Barbie being a successful doctor or lawyer, they can see a Barbie who looks like them.

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