After more than a half-century of white skin, bleach-blonde hair, blue eyes and unrealistic body dimensions, Barbie dolls are getting a makeover. Mattel Inc., the company that created Barbie, is re-imagining her with different body types, skin color and hair.
Barbie made her debut in 1959 as the “teenage fashion model” resembling actresses Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth. The doll featured pursed red lips, ’50s-style curly bangs of blonde or brunette, pale skin, long slim legs, and a narrow waist and hips. In each decade that followed, Barbie mirrored the top celebrities, reflecting changes in style and fashion, but generally retaining her unrealistic physique.
“I think it is important to notice that Barbie has always been a trailblazer,” said Michelle Chidoni, Mattel’s head of communications. “Barbie’s creator, Ruth Handler, received backlash for creating a doll in the female form. So, Barbie has always been surrounded by conversation and controversy.”
Barbie’s transformations have reflected women’s strides through history, the company says. After the first female Soviet cosmonaut flew in space in 1963, Barbies came with astronaut attire. Then in the 1980s, the brand launched the “We Girls Can Do Anything” campaign to try to promote her appeal among more consumers.
Barbie’s 2015 ad — showing young girls aspiring to careers like veterinarians, businesswomen and professors — received mixed reactions during the brand’s “Imagine the Possibilities” campaign. Many reminisced their days playing with Barbies, while others said the ad was clever but “Barbie sets the wrong image for girls regarding body type.”
The new line of Barbies offers more options for consumers; there’s a curvy Barbie, a tall Barbie and a petite Barbie. Rather than one-size-fits-all, Barbie’s hair and face come in a diversity of shades, even one with blue hair. Kim Culmone, head of design, told Time magazine that in order to reflect the times, the company changed Barbie’s face to have less makeup and a younger look.
“I think it was important for us offer a variety of dolls to cater to different girls,” said Chidoni.
For the brand that sells $1 billion in toys in more than 150 countries annually, making such a radical change is risky, some say, according to Time. One issue with the new dolls is that the clothing is not interchangeable among the different body types.
“It’s like shopping in a friend’s closet,” said Chidoni. “For 56 years we have not disrupted the system of how the dolls are made, and it will take us some time to catch up and get there so the clothing can fit all dolls in the future.”