Often lambasted as a toy that gave young people unrealistic expectations of what women are supposed to look like, toy company Mattel will introduce a new line of Barbie dolls, somewhat more realistic than previous iterations. A new line of dolls will feature four different body types, seven different skin tones, 22 eye colors, 24 hairstyles, and all the clothes you can imagine. The new “Fashionista” line will be in stores this year.
The new dolls will be available in tall, petite, and curvy sizes. They can be purchased online starting March 1st, and 33 new dolls are expected to be introduced by the end of the year. “We believe we have a responsibility to girls and parents to reflect a broader view of beauty,” says Evelyn Mazzocco, senior vice president and Barbie’s global general manager.
But it isn’t necessarily all just fun and games. Kelly Faircloth, a writer for Jezebel, writes that she loved the original Barbie doll—difficult proportions and all—and says that if she had been given a “curvy” doll, one that looked more like her, she might have felt “absolute devastation.”
“For all the criticism that’s been heaped on Barbie, it’s not all Mattel’s fault that girls whose bodies don’t conform are made to feel shitty at a young age. They didn’t create that reality,” Faircloth acknowledges, though she also says the company has been a part of it. “Of course Mattel is having trouble packaging adult womanhood for kids in a way that’s healthy but also fun,” she says.
In some ways, Faircloth is right. Given the way our society treats its young women, making a gift of a “plus-size” doll to a girl could confirm the worst fears she already carries about herself, likely before she’s even ten years old: to be fat, and to be singled out by that fact. It is of course better for children that they be able to see themselves in their toys, in television shows, and in the world, but to give a young girl a non-standard size doll doesn’t necessarily send them the message that to be different is okay—it could just tell them that they are, in fact, different.
The new line of Barbies is likely to make many children and parents happier and help them feel more at home in our culture, but the message that the dolls wants to make is hindered by a society that’s too slow to recognize it. Providing new toy options doesn’t erase the stigma of being different—it might just highlight the fact that many of us are.