Diverse Barbies Promote Body Positivity

by Claire Farrow

Mattel has finally done it. They’ve come to the realization that women do, in fact, have curves. In a beautifully body positive and inspiring commercial, Mattel revealed their new Fashionistas line in the Barbie collection. The new line features “four body types, seven skin tones, 22 eye colors, and 24 hairstyles,” according to Barbie.com. This addition to the Barbie brand is a good step into diversifying and expanding the concept of mainstream beauty in media and entertainment. What’s more, both the clothing and hairstyles showcase a more diverse sense of what is fashionable and beautiful.

In addition to the slightly more naturalized “original” body type, there is also “curvy,” “petite,” and “tall” body types. Within each category, there are at least two skin tone/ethnicity variations represented. However, what is disappointing is that not all of the dolls have been released yet, many listed as “coming soon.” While the entire Fashionistas line will be available for purchase by the end of Spring, it’s sad to see so few of the diverse body type Barbies currently available, while half of the original Fashionistas are on sale now.

It is also obvious that there are more options available in the “original” body type– there are 12 different designs– in comparison to the three other new bodies who only have seven variations each. While five additional dolls may not seem like enough to tip the scales and make a difference, these dolls represent the still-present trend that thin is normal and the more desirable body shape to be. This then counteracts the message that Mattel and Barbie wishes to broadcast – that every girl and woman is beautiful regardless of body type, hair type/style, or skin tone.

Moreover, there’s a limit to color diversity. While there is no doubt that Barbie deserves to be applauded for striving to be more diverse, I want them to go further. There are only two, possibly three Asian Barbies represented in the Fashionistas line, only three potentially Middle-Eastern Barbies, and only eight African/African-American Barbies. This is disheartening considering there are 33 Fashionista Barbies, meaning a total of 39.4%  of Fashionista Barbie’s are non-white. Now, these numbers aren’t wholly bad. Diversity at 39.4% is, again, a step in the right direction for Mattel and Barbie. Of course there is room for improvement and progressive diversification, and it should happen. However, we need to keep harping for more diversity rather than become satiated with the little diversity corporations and media outlets shell out to us.

Barbie’s diversification reflects the larger issue of representation and diversity in media. The fact that something as well-known and established as Barbie has chosen to broaden their definition of beauty to include women of different body shape, hair type/style, and ethnicity lends a voice to a still relevant marginalization taking place in the majority of media in our country.

The fact that Barbie is portraying  and creating their dolls to reflect real women allows young girls to be positively impacted. Before opening up production to include women of all sizes and colors, Barbie has always touted that they show that girls can be anything. However, this encouraging statement seemed to be only directed to certain-sized white women with specific lifestyles and personalities, and excluded any woman who didn’t fit that mold. With the addition of the Fashionista line, they are now living up to their statement more than ever.

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