Starting today, shoppers at Barbie.com will be able to select Barbie dolls with four different body types. There’s the original Barbie we all know, and the new styles: curvy, tall, and petite. The dolls are also available in seven skin tones, 22 eye colors, and 24 hair styles. Barbie dolls have drawn criticism for their unrealistic dimensions for almost 60 years now. As the 21st century dawned, research showed that Barbie’s unnatural thinness indeed affected young girls’ body image. But the real turnaround came when sales began to drop a few years ago.
As much as Mattel has tried to market her as a feminist, Barbie’s famous figure has always overshadowed her business outfits. At her core, she’s just a body, not a character, a canvas upon which society can pro-ject its anxieties about body image. “Barbie has all this baggage,” says Jess Weiner, a branding expert and consultant who has worked with Dove, Disney and Mattel to create empowering messaging for girls. “Her status as an empowered woman has been lost.”
With all that in mind, Kim Culmone, head of design, posed a challenge to her team:
If you could design Barbie today, how would you make her a reflection of the times? Out of that came changing Barbie’s face to have less makeup and look younger, giving her articulated ankles so she could wear flats as well as heels, giving her new skin tones to add diversity and then of course changing the body. While curvy Barbie’s hips, thighs and calves are visibly larger than before, from the waist up she is less Jessica Rabbit than she is pear-shaped. Mattel refuses to discuss the actual proportions of the new dolls or how it came to decide on them.
The rollout is planned to be gradual. The new Barbie shapes require different clothes for each model, and there are now two shoe sizes. With all the new products, stocking stores will be slow as the company negotiates shelf space. For now, they are only available online. Read more about Barbie’s changeover at Time.
(Image credit: Barbie.com)