It’s a nice first step, but a lot more needs to be done.
That was the reaction from two experts interviewed by Healthline to the latest versions of the Barbie doll released by Mattel.
“It’s excellent in concept, but it doesn’t accomplish any real broadening of Barbie,” said Dr. Ellen Rome, a pediatrician who is head of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. “Even curvy Barbie is a figure impossible for most girls to attain.”
“It reflects reality better and it’s an impulse to represent reality,” said Harriet Brown, a professor of magazine journalism who has written about weight and body image. “but I would like to see different attributes emphasized.”
The popular doll now has three bodies — tall, petite, and curvy — that will be sold with the original models. The new dolls went on sale online on Thursday. They will be introduced at retail stores later this year.
The makeover was so secret that Mattel executives code named it “Project Dawn” so even employee families wouldn’t become aware of it, according to Time magazine.
It follows the 2015 introduction of new skin tones and hair textures.
Introducing “Curvy” Barbie
In a column in this week’s edition, Time writer Eliana Dockterman says it’s the curvy version of this year’s Barbie that will provide “the most startling change” to the traditional busty, small-waisted Barbie that was introduced 57 years ago.
Dockterman, who got a chance to see the new dolls this month at Mattel’s Los Angeles County headquarters, said the curvy version has “meat on her thighs and a protruding tummy and behind.”
She notes clothes made for the traditional Barbie will not fit on the curvy version.
Rome said she likes the term “curvy” because it’s a more positive connotation, but she still feels the curvy label, and even more so, the petite and tall Barbie dolls are sending young girls on “a path to body discontent.”
Brown said she isn’t sure why the physical attributes of the dolls need to be in the title. She also notes dolls like Barbie are just one example of the cultural bombardment aimed at girls.
“The dolls are just part of the overall barrage of messages girls get,” Brown said.
Why Is Mattel Doing This?
Dockterman writes that the new versions are a “massive risk” for Mattel but one that might be worth taking.
Mattel sells about $1 billion in Barbie dolls and merchandise a year in 150 countries. However, Barbie sales decreased 20 percent from 2012 to 2014.
In addition, competitors continue to eat away at the market. Lego has introduced a line of toys designed to encourage girls to build. Hasbro now has the Disney princess market, including the popular Elsa from the movie “Frozen.”
Barbie was introduced at the New York Toy Fair in 1959 by creator Ruth Handler, who named the doll after her daughter, Barbara.
The doll sales skyrocketed over the next few years, but by the mid-1960s women’s rights activists began criticizing the toy for encouraging girls to be pretty rather than smart.
Mattel executives have countered the criticism by pointing out that Barbie has been a business owner, an astronaut, and a doctor over the years.
Rome agrees that a portion of Mattel’s marketing has been a positive thing.
“They have done a great job of helping young girls envision some careers,” she said.
However, she and Brown would like Mattel to continue to revise Barbie.
“I challenge Mattel to come up with positive messages that are even more robust,” Rome said.
Brown extends that invitation to all toy makers.
“Anything that diversifies toys is a good thing,” she said, “but a new Barbie isn’t going to solve our body image problems.”