New Barbie? Thanks, but No Thanks

Suddenly Barbie is all about size. Now, when dressing her doll, a girl is aware of size differences and the message she learns is not that body-size does not limit a person’s capacity but just the opposite: if you are of a certain size certain options are off limits.

When Barbie released a new line of dolls in January with more realistic body types, including curvy and petite, the media gave a glowing response. Barbie, the iconic fashion doll, known for her unrealistic features and so the subject of ongoing criticism, had finally underwent what seemed to be a long overdue makeover. The new version of Barbie was a media success, appearing on the cover of Time Magazine and receiving positive reviews in the New York Times and the Washington Post. The new doll was also the darling of the blogosphere, where long time body image advocates celebrated that Barbie had finally bent to politically correct pressure.

Yet the new dolls, each with different shapes and sizes, instead of promoting acceptance of all body shapes, seems to do just the opposite and force girls to be more conscious than ever of size. Now when playing with Barbie, instead of matching any doll and any outfit and letting the imagination run wild, dolls will be limited in what they can wear: curvy Barbie will not fit into a favorite dress and the cute skirt worn by the petite version will not slip past the hips of the traditional doll.

This problem is exacerbated by the limited fashion options available to the new body shapes for which Mattel has yet to release any wardrobe options beyond what comes with the doll. Indeed, it would hardly be profitable to release the same range of clothing for the new dolls that the original version enjoys. Thus the curvy, petite and tall dolls would not have the option of the professional clothing offered by the careers series or the athletic clothing made for the original doll, to name a few of the many options available. Suddenly Barbie is all about size. Now, when dressing her doll, a girl is aware of size differences and the message she learns is not that body-size does not limit a person’s capacity but just the opposite: if you are of a certain size certain options are off limits.

Now when playing with Barbie, instead of matching any doll and any outfit and letting the imagination run wild, dolls will be limited in what they can wear

While it is good to see that companies are recognizing the impact of toys on unhealthy understanding of body size, and Mattel’s effort to address the issues of the Barbie body image are laudable, the new dolls will not do the trick. By making Barbie, which was never about size, as every doll had the same proportions, size conscious, Barbie is simply highlighting size-based the differences rather that teaching acceptance.

Besides, playing with Barbie’s was never about the doll’s body shape but rather about the endless hours of imaginative play where any doll could be anything a little girl wanted. With the introduction of the new dolls such freedom and creativity are now restricted by the doll’s size. So thanks but no thanks Mattel, I’ll keep my old dolls and their one-size fits all clothing.

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About Erin Dunne

Erin Dunne is a senior studying History, French and International Studies. In her free time she is a drug policy reform advocate and a free speech enthusiast. You can reach her by email at eedunne@umich.edu