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The Evolution of Barbie

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11 May 2023

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Barbie, the iconic doll introduced in 1959 by Mattel has undergone significant changes over the years, particularly in terms of diversity. Initially, Barbie was criticised for promoting unrealistic beauty standards and perpetuating narrow ideas about femininity. However, in recent years, the company has made strides to make Barbie more inclusive and representative.

The original Barbie was a tall, thin, blonde-haired, blue-eyed doll with an impossibly narrow waist and hourglass figure. The doll’s appearance reflected the beauty standards of the time – a thin, white, conventionally attractive appearance. People have argued that Barbie set unrealistic beauty standards for young girls and contributed to the creation of harmful gender stereotypes.

Original Barbie
Original 1959 Barbie

In the early 1960s, Mattel introduced a friend for Barbie named Christie, who was African American. However, Christie was simply a darker-skinned version of the original Barbie doll, with the same body type and facial features. Christie’s introduction was a step in the right direction, but disappointedly the doll still failed to adequately represent diverse body types and skin tones.

 Talking Christie Barbie doll, 1969
Talking Christie Barbie doll, 1969

In the 1980s, Mattel introduced a line of dolls called “Black Barbie” and “Hispanic Barbie,” which featured dolls with darker skin tones and textured hair. However, again these dolls were still based on the original Barbie, with the same narrow waist and hourglass figure. While these dolls represented a greater level of diversity, they still failed to represent a broader range of body types across the range.

Hispanic Barbie 1980
Hispanic Barbie
American Barbie 1980
American Barbie

It wasn’t until the late 2010s that Mattel began to make significant changes to the Barbie doll’s appearance to better reflect a diverse range of body types and skin tones. In 2016, the company introduced a line of “Fashionista” Barbies, which featured dolls with a range of skin tones, body types, and hair textures. The line included curvy, petite, and tall dolls, as well as dolls with afros, curls, and braids. This line included 23 new dolls with different skin tones, hair colour and eye colours.

In 2019, Barbie introduced dolls with prosthetic legs and sitting in wheelchairs. The dolls were an addition to the “Fashionista” line and were designed to promote inclusivity and representation for individuals with disabilities. These dolls were the first in the Barbie line to represent individuals with disabilities and Mattel has been widely praised for their representation and inclusivity.

Most recently in 2023 Barbie has released a Barbie with Down Syndrome. The Barbie doll with Down syndrome is meant to inspire all children to tell more stories through play and help to reduce stigma around Down Syndrome.

“As the most diverse doll line on the market, Barbie plays an important role in a child’s early experiences, and we are dedicated to doing our part to counter social stigma through play,” said Lisa McKnight, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Barbie & Dolls, Mattel.

Down Syndrome Barbie 2023

The new face sculpt features a rounder shape, smaller ears, and a flat nasal bridge, while the eyes are slightly slanted in an almond shape. The doll’s palms even include a single line, a characteristic often associated with those with Down Syndrome

The latest Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie ‘This Barbie Is Everything’ is set to release in July, with multiple actors playing both Barbie & Ken. We have seen posters of President Barbie, Nobel Prize in Physics Barbie, Supreme Court Justice Barbie, and Lawyer Barbie.  From the trailer I can see this new movie isn’t just about Barbie, but it’s about women being able to be anything they want to be. A huge step from the Barbie we saw over 50 years ago. Watch this space for the full movie review!

Related article: Representation in fashion is more than just the number on a label

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