Mattel, the maker of Barbie and other similarly iconic toys, released new designs under its Fashionista line to showcase a more multi-dimensional and inclusive definition of beauty and fashion. It’s also more reflective of reality, as the new models highlight various skin tones, heights, and bodies, and conditions such as vitiligo and alopecia.
For the longest time, Barbie dolls looked the same – tall, thin, and white – which is barely representative of the millions of girls and children who brought her home. It also created a beauty stereotype that people wanted to emulate, but was difficult to achieve.
In 2015, Barbie started veering away from the slim, white ideal by creating Barbie Fashionista, which offered dolls with different skin shades, body types, eye colors, and clothing, and embracing different cultures.
In 2017, Mattel introduced the first Barbie to wear a hijab, the head covering traditionally worn by some Muslim women. Last year, the company produced a doll with a prosthetic leg, and another in a wheelchair.
These were developed in consultation with then 12-year-old disability activist Jordan Reeves, who was born without a left forearm. Reeves co-founded the nonprofit Born Just Right, which develops “creative solutions that help kids with disabilities live a more enjoyable life.”
The most recent Barbie Fashionistas include a doll with vitiligo, a condition which causes pigmentation loss in the skin, and the first ever Ken doll in the line to have long, rooted hair. In a statement, Mattel said that a prototype of the vitiligo toy debuted on the Barbie Instagram page in 2019, and became its most “liked” post ever.
The new Barbie is also helping erase the beauty stigma around the condition, following the path of supermodel Winnie Harlow, who has become a public spokesperson for vitiligo. Mattel worked with a dermatologist to create the doll with vitiligo, to ensure that the condition was accurately portrayed.
In June, two more distinctive dolls will join the Fashionista set – one without hair, and another with a darker skin tone and a gold prosthetic limb. Alopecia or spot baldness is a condition where hair is lost in some or all parts of the body.
People with the condition are generally healthy, but the social reaction to the condition often causes undue stress. By creating the doll, Mattel stated, “If a girl is experiencing hair loss for any reason, she can see herself reflected in the line.”
Since 2015, Barbie has crafted more than 170 relatable new looks, including five body types, 22 skin tones, 76 hair styles, 94 hair colors, and 13 eye colors. In addition to the original doll, Barbie can be curvy, petite, and tall. The Ken doll also varies, with some dolls having narrower figures or broader shoulders.
Hairstyles are as mixed as the ones you see every day out on the street, with some dolls in cornrows, man buns, and hair featuring all colors of the rainbow. Skin tones range from light to black, freckles are more common, and the fashion styles may be classic or inspired by the latest trends.
The market reaction to the authentic and relatable dolls has been largely enthusiastic. The Barbie dolls in wheelchairs were so popular that they were among the bestselling toys in the UK in 2019. Mattel also noted that a curvy black Fashionista with an afro hairstyle was the top selling doll during almost every week in 2019.
Lisa McKnight, senior vice president and global head of Barbie and its dolls portfolio, stated, “We are proud that Barbie is the most diverse doll line on the market that continues to evolve to better reflect the world girls see around them, adding more diversity for endless storytelling possibilities.”
With Barbie Fashionistas, the company continues its goal of uplifting children and girls the world over, with dolls inspired by society’s diversity and endless possibilities.