"Faced with changes in beauty ideals, shifting demographics and ongoing criticism of Barbie’s impossible proportions, Mattel decided to remake the iconic blonde. The new body shapes follow the addition of new skin tones and hair textures in 2015." - Time Magazine
Barbie has for decades been a favorite amongst preteen girls, and occasionally a source of annoyance for concerned mothers. If the disproportionately long legs and unrealistic waistline didn't perturb you, then her pale skin and decidedly blond aesthetic surely may have left you hankering for something a little more realistic and diverse. After all, there are many different kinds of bodies on many different kinds of human beings in the world...and Barbie hardly represents a single one of them.
Or rather, not until recently. To the joy of many young girls and moms alike, Barbie has gotten a much-needed make-over, and rather than appearing like the plastic celebrities that litter our tabloids, she's finally starting to actually more resemble the consumers who buy her. Say hello to the new Barbie: She is more than just one body type and more than just one look. Thanks to the changes, children can now play with “curvy” Barbies, as well as tall ones and short ones, with many different body types and physical traits represented, a more realistic situation that celebrates what human bodies are reallylike—varied and diverse in their form, but each one just as beautiful as the next. Consumers will now be able to choose from a mix of various features—two dozen different hairstyles and 22 different eye colors, for instance—that make each Barbie seem like a unique individual.
Over the decades, our values in society have changed, and while we may have long overlooked the impact that toys like Barbie might have on the minds of the young girls and boys who love them, we're now becoming a more self-aware culture that wants to see itself reflected in the products that we use. We are more conscious of the importance of promoting a realistic and healthy body image in kids before they grow into adults with insecurities and self-esteem issues. We realize now more than ever before that even those of us who deviate from the average or the “norm” deserve to see a bit of ourselves in the toys that we play with.
Considering that feminists have long complained of Barbie's unrealistic look, Mattel's changes have been overdue, and in some ways it's surprising that it took as long as it did for the old company to catch up with cultural trends. While this could also be an attempt at recovering from waning sales, or increasing its revenue in international, less Anglo-centric markets, the company has indicated that it intends to keep up with the times, and that there was a growing interest in a Barbie that this new generation could better relate to.
Regardless of the motivation, if this small change to the face of such a familiar product is any sign of the times, then we can probably expect more positive changes in the future, and a more socially-conscious collection of toys for budding minds to play with. We can only hope that in the very near future, many brands of dolls will follow suit and come to represent the natural (and beautiful!) variations that are found in nature, rather than attempting to muffle and simplify the bright array of colors and tones and styles that we observe every day among the people that we love and interact with.