Crisp sliding doors open with a heavenly whoosh, tributes to Pokemon and Disney greet my entrance, and bold, bright colors dominate every shelf. As I entered my local Toys-R-Us for the first time in nearly a decade, I sighed as I took in the overwhelming chasm new toy technology surrounding me: dolls that could fly at the push of a button, smartphone controlled Sphero bots, and an amalgam of WiiU games.
I felt slightly lost as I maneuvered myself around the maze that is Toys-R-Us. Gone were the board games and Hot Wheels; instead, the shelves were laden with technology-centered and modernized versions of old toys and games.
I rushed over to the familiar pink panels of Barbie, excited to see the sparkly mermaids and bedazzled fairies that had once populated my couch and carpet floor.
To my surprise, I saw new Barbies and Kens, sporting more realistic clothes (pencil skirts and button downs), different body sizes (curvy Barbie) and current hairstyles (Ken’s man bun). Though my inner 7-year-old yearned for the butterfly fairies of the past, the current me appreciated that Barbie was attempting to change with the times.
In celebration of National Barbie Day last year, the traditional Barbie doll, a brainchild of the children’s toy company Mattel, was given a major makeover with the introduction of new physical features. The new Barbie “Fashionistas” line unveiled the curvy, petite and tall body types, along with an additional seven skin tones, 22 eye colors and 24 hair textures.
In the past, Barbie dolls promoted an unhealthy body image for younger girls due to their unrealistic physical proportions. According to the Huffington Post, if Barbie were an actual woman, she would have an 18 inch waist and 33 inch hip, an hourglass figure that is obviously unattainable. With approximately 90% of American girls between the ages of 3 and 10 owning them, Barbie dolls could lead the majority of young girls to have impractical expectations for their own bodies.
A 2006 Sussex University study supported this statistic by showing that girls as young as 5 years old began to desire slim figures after seeing picture books of Barbie dolls. However, following the release of the new models, the potential for girls to be negatively influenced by Barbies may significantly decrease because the dolls no longer portray unrealistic body proportions. Since a variety of body shapes are available, the new dolls can help these girls to accept that human bodies come in different shapes and sizes.
Nonetheless, while the new Barbies challenge standards of beauty, they do little to confront the current generation’s obsession with looks. According to the Young Women’s Christian Association, 67% of women are trying to lose weight and the rate of cosmetic surgery has increased 500%, proving that today’s women are engrossed with their own appearances.
From a teen’s point-of-view, I was happy with Barbie’s changes that fit better in today’s more inclusive world. But, I was saddened that young girls continue to buy and play with Barbies and feel compelled to compare themselves to these still unrealistically perfect-looking dolls.
Despite their revolutionary makeovers, the new Barbies contribute to this problem by focusing more on the clothing and physical appearances of the dolls rather than the stories behind them, in contrast to trendy figures such as the Prettie Girls! or Lammily dolls. For instance, the makers of Prettie Girls! emphasize girls’ talents and hobbies more than their looks. One of the dolls in the Prettie Girls! collection, Lena, is a cheer captain and a science and spelling bee whiz. Furthermore, Lammily dolls seem to have an almost infinite customization capability. Girls can include realistic features such as freckles and acne and choose occupations ranging from soldier to chef for their dolls. Clearly, both of these companies do not prioritize how the dolls look; instead, they underscore the fact that each person has a distinct identity and should not place excessive importance on beauty.
Overall, the newly released Barbies counter current beauty norms, but they still emphasize outer appearance over personality or interests. Though the makeover fails to solve Barbie’s overlying issue, initiating change in the traditional Barbie launches the idea that all body shapes, sizes and colors are beautiful.