Long legs, an impossibly thin waist, bleach blonde hair and big blue eyes. Growing up, those were the defining features of the iconic Barbie doll every kid played with at least once. For decades, Barbie’s immediately recognizable features have narrowly defined what younger kids consider attractive.
Over the past several years, in an effort to diversify the brand, Mattel has added more skin tones, hair colors and body types to the Barbie lineup.
A lack of representation, especially Asian representation, continues to plague the brand, showing that Mattel still has a long way to go when it comes to diversity.
This past January, Mattel was applauded for adding new, inclusive dolls to its Fashionista line. These dolls include one that has no hair, one with a prosthetic limb and one with vitiligo, a skin condition characterized by the loss of skin color in patches.
There are 176 total dolls in the Fashionista line with different body types and skin tones and for this, Mattel has proclaimed itself to be the “most diverse doll line,” according to the Barbie website.
While this seems like a step in the right direction for inclusivity, a closer look at the line still shows a lack of diversity. As a kid, it was rare for me to walk into a toy store or the toy aisle at Target and see a doll, let alone a Barbie doll, that looked like me. Looking through the entire Fashionista line was no different.
Every time I saw a doll that had dark hair and a complexion similar to mine, a closer look determined that the doll’s eyes were green or blue. In total, I counted three dolls out of 176 that the younger version of me could have looked at and thought that it somewhat looked like me. No Asian dolls came from the “tall” or “petite” body type categories, only “curvy” and “original.”
Mattel does not have the strongest history when it comes to diversity and is often attributed to furthering unrealistic and non-inclusive beauty standards.
The first black Barbie was released in 1980, 21 years after Barbie’s founding, and the first Asian Barbie, called Oriental Barbie, was released the next year in 1981 as part of Barbie’s “global safari,” according to the Dolls of the World listings on the Barbie website.
Oriental Barbie featured a nondescript amalgam of various Asian cultures reflected in its hairstyle and accessories, and on the website, to this day, the dress is described as a “beautiful costume reflecting the influence of the Orient.”
Even in the past decade, Mattel continued to reinforce harmful Asian stereotypes, as seen in the descriptions for the Doll of the World — Asia line.
In 2010, the “handsome and exotic” Japan Ken doll was released, wearing samurai garb and wielding a Katana sword. In 2011, Mattel released China Barbie, who came with a baby panda. In 2012, India Barbie was “Bollywood-ready” and came with a monkey friend.
The worst part about this is that even though there are more diverse dolls, the original Barbie continues to dominate. The standard Barbie playset options feature thin, blonde Barbie, and the one bald Barbie in the new line is white.
The Barbie movie that is in the works was originally going to have Amy Schumer as the lead, but now Margot Robbie, the epitome of slim, blonde Hollywood royalty, will play the part of Barbie, according to BBC.
Blonde Barbie still commands toy store shelves, and other Barbies continue to be harder to find, which seems to make clear that the brand views them as the alternative versions of the doll.
Mattel may be planning on making more types of Barbies with more skin tones, hair, eyes, and body types, but that only reinforces the idea that the white Barbie remains the standard and the others are simply an afterthought.
Popular toys have long had a strong influence on young children, and now that racial minorities make up over half of the children in America, young kids deserve to see themselves reflected in the most diverse doll line.