“Curvy Barbie”See all questions about commodity
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Today, Mattel announced a new group of Barbies to the brand's Fashionista collection of dolls. In addition to adding more skin, hair, and eye colors, the line will now feature Curvy, Tall, and Petite dolls. Taking a look at these ladies, my first thought was: Wow, a not-thin Barbie! My next thought? Duck and cover. Wide hips or not, this Barbie is still a Barbie. Therefore, she comes with a non-detachable backlash. But this time, I'm going to be on her side. What a world.
The truth is, there is no Barbie without backlash. She's been rankling consumers since she was born in 1959, a bosomy bombshell in a zebra-stripe swimsuit, her eyes cast in a suggestive, sideways gaze. Back then, it was Barbie's large breasts that had parents worried over what kind of message this gal might be sending their daughters. Over the years, concerns moved further south, toward Barbie's waifish little waist. Barbie's been through a lot in her 50-plus years; between her on-and-off romance with Ken; her successful careers in the fields of education and astronautics; and her adventures with Skipper, Francie, and her one Black friend, Christie. But no matter what changes went on in her life and her manufacturing, her body remained the same: really, really thin.
Just like OG Barbie, Curvy Barbie is problematic. In fact, she embodies the biggest, most valid complaints from the body positive community. First of all, she's curvy, a somewhat dated euphemism for all plus-size women, implying that if you're not thin, then you'd better be a voluptuous hourglass.
Second, she doesn't appear to be the size of a plus-size woman, but a plus-size model. (Don't get me wrong, Ashley Graham is the bee's knees, but most little girls won't grow up into bodies like hers.)
Finally, she's niche. She represents one-quarter of one collection of Barbie's vast universe. While plus-size women make up the majority of the American female population, in this world, she's almost an anomaly. She doesn't get to date Ken and or run for president. She just gets to exist — a little.
But I'd argue there's a pretty big but in this equation.
Curvy Barbie is a big and necessary first step. By their very nature, first steps are often a little unsteady and are meant to be exploratory. I cannot imagine a scenario in which any Curvy Barbie could satisfy everybody's needs and opinions on this matter, because she is just one body. But I can see how we can learn a lot from her — things we simply couldn't learn if we didn't let her out into the market and see where she goes. Take a look at the internet today and you'll see how much we're already learning because of her and her Tall and Petite sisters.
As of this writing, #Barbie is the number one trend on Twitter. "Barbie diversifies by adding new kinds of rather slender women," tweets New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas.
"SO happy to see all of the new Barbie bodies!" the iconic Gabifresh chimed in.
Added business advisor and TV personality, Carol Roth: "Having a 'curvy Barbie' isn't a win for girls/women. It's a win when the discussion is no longer about our bodies."
All totally valid opinions and hearty food for thought. Curvy Barbie was born 13 hours ago and she's already brought more voices to a vital discussion. I say anything that drives a conversation about feminism and body diversity to the top of the charts is an undeniably good thing.
Then, there's the conversation happening offline, amongst children. That's the one that really matters: Barbie is, after all, a toy. Time's in-depth exposé on the development of these new Barbie bodies underscored the sad fact that while we crow about our great strides with acceptance and diversity, kids still don't want to say the word "fat" out loud.
Observing a room full of kids testing the doll at Mattel, "A shy 7-year-old refuses to say the word 'fat' to describe the doll, instead spelling it out, 'F, a, t,'" writes Time reporter Eliana Dockterman. "'I don't want to hurt her feelings,' she says a little desperately."
A scene like that reveals a lot, both about what kids perceive as fat and how they feel about fatness. I wouldn't personally categorize Curvy Barbie as fat, but she is different. And we cannot underestimate the impact of showing kids something different, even if it's just a little bit different or not the kind of different we would have preferred. Diversity is all about exposure to difference and the understanding that different is normal and, above all, equal.
The more time Curvy Barbie, with her slightly thicker arms and small, but rounded, belly, stands on shelves alongside her skinnier sisters, the more mundane she becomes. Today, she's groundbreaking, but when she becomes a normal toy, what ground might be broken next? After all, plus-size bodies are in the spotlight now, but what of all the other bodies that don't look like Barbie? There is so much difference among us and so many words we're scared to say out loud. If Curvy Barbie gets us saying some of them, who cares how big her thighs are? The point is, we're talking.
For New Barbie Dolls, the Question Is: What to Wear?
By Polly Mosendz On 1/30/16 at 3:19 PM
Barbie got a major makeover this week when Mattel released the beloved doll in three new, more realistic body types, and with 30 hair colors, 22 eye colors and seven skin tones. One thing Barbie didn't get? A new wardrobe.Edgar Su/Reuters
Barbie got a major makeover this week when Mattel released the beloved doll in three new more, realistic body types, and with 30 hair colors, 22 eye colors and seven skin tones. One thing Barbie didn’t get? A new wardrobe.
The changes in Barbie’s body shape was long in the works for Mattel, Time magazine reported in its cover story on the doll, and each decision was made extremely carefully. The new dolls, all named Barbie, are available in tall, curvy and petite body types, and while each comes with two complete outfits, they won’t be able to share clothes among themselves or with the original Barbie.
“You won’t be able to just go to the store and buy clothes that will fit all the dolls. In the world that we live in, not everything fits everyone,” Barbie’s vice president of design, Kim Culmone, told Glamour. “Some of the dolls can share tops, but there may be some issues where some of the bottoms don’t fit all of the dolls.”
Eventually, Mattel will offer the option of purchasing outfits for each doll’s body type, but for now the clothes only come with the purchase of a doll. With no company-made clothing on the shelves, Barbie enthusiasts will have to rely on crafting their own doll clothing or purchasing it online from professional crafters.
Janel Sturzen, who offers free Barbie clothing patterns on her blog, started off sewing doll clothes when Mattel changed Barbie’s body slightly in the 1990s. “I was just a mother and my daughters got the new dolls as birthday presidents,” she told Newsweek. “There were no clothes for them! Mattel released the bodies before the wardrobes.”
With the new dolls in hand, Sturzen went through a lot of trial and error until she found a pattern that fit the doll. The patterns that worked turned into clothing for Barbie and wound up on her website, where others download them regularly to make clothing for their own dolls.
Sturzen hoped Mattel would release patterns to go with the newest dolls so enthusiasts could make clothing for them on their own. Not having that option, she’s planning to make a pattern for curvy Barbie on her own and share it with her readers as soon as she has the doll in hand.
“I feel really positive about that new shape,” she said of curvy Barbie. “They’ve actually made a real looking woman. I’m excited to make clothes for her.” Though her own children are too old to play with dolls, she’s excited to have a variety of body type options for her future grandchildren.
“When I get to be a grandma, I’m going to make the coolest Barbie clothes you’ve ever seen.”
Chelly Wood, also a doll clothing pattern maker, is equally enthusiastic about the new body types. “It’s an exciting challenge,” she told Newsweek. “It’s really neat that they’ve come to decide it’s time to make Barbie more natural, more like actual people.” Wood works with Lammily, a company that makes realistic-looking dolls, to sell patterns, but she’ll offer Barbie patterns free of charge on her website.
It’s unclear if Lammily doll clothing will fit any of the new Barbie dolls, but given that both have more realistic body types, it is possible. Wood is going to focus on designing patterns for “pretty and feminine” clothing, so as to give the new dolls looks that are as photogenic as the old-school Barbie's.
“I’d love to try some period costumes for the new dolls and see what they look like,” Wood said. “I’ll design some that are moden, that’s what people want—a pair of jeans, a cute shirt, a nice pencil skirt.” For a challenge, Wood is considering making some renaissance, medieval and princess dresses for the new dolls.
As for Barbie clothing retailers, some do plan to start making clothing for the new dolls as soon as they become available. “I will probably start with my basic items—flannel pajamas, robes, sweats and jeans—and offer them in the various sizes,” explained Kathryn Kahler, who operates Kathy’s Silver Threads on Etsy. “I like a challenge and look forward to it.” Her creations go for between $5 and $20, which will get you a taffeta, lace and satin Barbie bridal gown, veil and doll-sized bouquet.
With a variety of body types, it remains to be seen if doll clothing makers choose to reproduce each design in every size or go with a “one size fits all” mentality. Tauna Hill, owner of Tuna Fairy on Etsy and eBay, expects the latter. Because of the undesirable economics of making individual outfits for every different body type, Hill believes doll seamstresses “will find and produce patterns that will fit a plethora of dolls.” Of course, some high-end doll clothing designers will still focus on “haute couture for dolls,” she explained. Those designs “will stick to relatively one or two body types—usually the ones that attract collectors and adults.”
No matter how the designs shake out, Hill is prepared for change in the doll clothing market. “Change is part of our industry,” she said in an email interview. “If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be referred to as the ‘fashion doll’ industry.”
While numerous doll clothing and pattern designers expressed enthusiasm about the new dolls and the fashion possibilities that come with them, the owner of Barbie’s Retro Boutique on Etsy told Newsweek she cares only for the 1950s and '60s body type and will not make any clothing for the new dolls, adding that Mattel is “falling for this PC pressure from the progressive liberals.”
“What a ridiculous concept. Fashion has been lost on today’s generation,” the owner, who identifies herself online as Chantal G, said. “You couldn’t pay me to design anything for these people and now Mattel’s new body dolls.”
On January 28, Mattel unveiled three new body types — curvy, tall, and petite — for the world's best-selling doll. For the first time ever, girls will own a Barbie whose proportions relatively match their own.
Barbie's head-to-toe overhaul answers fans' call for a doll that looks like them and supports more positive body images. It also marks the most radical change to the company's product line in its 57-year history — a Hail Mary pass at regaining Barbie's status as an empowered role model for girls. The good publicity could turn around Mattel's four-year retail slump.
The morning after the announcement, I got into work, logged onto my computer, and bought myself one of the new, curvy Barbies for about $18. It's something I haven't done in more than a decade, but I couldn't resist.
This is the doll I always wanted.
Courtesy of Melia RobinsonMy girl cousins and I (R) were obsessed with Barbie as kids.
Over the years, my collection grew to include dozens of Barbies. I graduated from Mermaid Barbie to Wet 'n Wild Barbie, whose skimpy bikini would hardly wrap around my finger now; and from young Babysitter Skipper to My Generation Girl Barbie, who came with her own body glitter and teen magazine. My family had two big, clear plastic bins to contain them, their clothing, and tiny pink stilettos.
Growing up, my Barbie dolls already kind of looked like me. Most of them were fair-skinned with big blue eyes and yellow hair. I asked my dad if he remembers which were my favorites and he texted back, "the blonde ones."
Yes, they mostly looked like me — except in one crucial way.
Until now, Barbie's figure resembled a toothpick more closely than a human girl.
Courtesy of Melia RobinsonI spent hours playing with the Barbie Magic Hair Styler software game, a Christmas present.
If the original Barbie were a real woman, she would stand nearly six feet and weigh 110 pounds, making her so underweight she wouldn't be able menstruate, according to research by Rehabs.com, an online tool for locating mental health treatment centers in the US. One out of every 2.4 billion women in the world have a waist as small.
To top if off, Barbie's size-three feet and six-inch ankles would force her to walk on all fours.
Now, I grew up a chubby kid. I remember dressing and undressing Barbie in my pink-carpeted room, examining her stick-figure limbs and thinking, gosh, she is so beautiful.
She fit into every dress and bathing suit without a hitch, while I dug for clothing at the back of the rack in the Limited Too and Aéropostale. Nothing jiggled on her, and I felt embarrassed I couldn't say the same about me.
ReutersThe Black & White Bathing Suit Barbie debuted in 1959.
Barbie's impossibly tiny body has drawn critics since the year of her inception. Parents worry she projects unrealistic expectations on their children, and they might be right. A 2006 study published in the journal Developmental Psychology suggests that girls exposed to Barbie at a young age stressed over their weight more than girls who played with other dolls.
Mattel has made incremental changes over the years to reboot Barbie. In 1998, her hips widened and her bust shrunk in an attempt to reflect real women. (That adjustment was far less noticeable than this week's update.)
Last year, the company launched a more ethnically diverse line of dolls, featuring new skin tones, facial structures, hair styles, and eye colors. Plus, Barbie's new articulated ankles allowed her to rock a pair of flats just as well as heels for the first time.
As someone who has struggled with her weight her entire life, I could cry just thinking about Barbie's latest makeover. It's a big deal.
MattelBarbie comes in all shapes and sizes now.
Curvy, tall, petite, and original Barbies send a message that there's no one-size-fits-all standard of beauty. The dolls are equally stunning and fashion-forward, and their differences make them even more special.
My hope is that girls who pick up the Barbie who most resemble them, as I once did, will see they're perfect the way they are. Maybe they will feel less alienated by the hyper-sexualized images of women they see on TV and in magazines. With luck, those girls will play with dolls who don't look like them, too, and grow more inclusive of other shapes and sizes.
The curvy, blonde Barbie doll I bought yesterday, however, will sit buried in my closet for at least 10 years. The vibrancy of her belted summer dress will fade, and her plastic blue eyes will gather dust.
She's something I want to share with my future daughter. This doll is a reminder — the world is still catching up with our broader ideals of beauty. It won't happen overnight.
Barbie is a shining, pink-lipped symbol of good things to come.
Why the curvy new Barbie is good news for your little girl
March 4, 2016 11.17am GMT
1. Vanessa LoBue
Assistant Professor of Psychology, Rutgers University Newark
Vanessa LoBue does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Mattel recently announced that their half-century-old centerfold would be getting a brand new look. The new Barbie will come in three different body shapes (tall, curvy and petite) and a variety of skin tones, eye colors and hairstyles.
Barbie’s new look is likely the result of criticisms that her unnatural and unattainable proportions might be giving young girls who play with her a negative message about body image.
From my perspective as a researcher of children’s learning and behavior, the big question is: do girls really learn about body image through playing with dolls? And if so, how is the new Barbie an important first step?
Bad news for old Barbie
Much of the concern about Barbie started in the early 2000s, when studies came out showing that overly thin dolls made girls feel bad about themselves.
One of these studies showed that five-year-old girls who were read a storybook with photographs of Barbie dolls (U.S. size 2) felt worse about their bodies and expressed a stronger desire to be thin than girls who were read a storybook with pictures of an Emme doll (U.S. size 16), or girls who were read a storybook with pictures of other neutral objects, like colorful balloons.
Playing with impossibly thin dolls makes little girls feel bad about themselves. lil'_wiz, CC BY-ND
Perhaps what is more problematic is that girls as young as three-and-a-half have also been found to associate thin dolls with positive personality traits and heavy dolls with negative personality traits. For example, when asked to describe the traits of three dolls – one thin, one average and one heavy – preschool-aged girls were most likely to call the thin doll smart or happy and the heavy doll sad or tired.
Despite having short-term effects on how girls feel about themselves, there is no evidence that playing with Barbie dolls has a long-term effect on self-esteem. For example, in a study where researchers asked over 200 adults to describe how much they played with Barbie dolls growing up, there was no relationship between how much they played with Barbie as children and how they felt about their bodies as adults. So it’s possible that the negative effect of playing with the old Barbie is short-lived.
Body image and the media
But, does that mean that brief periods of feeling bad about your body aren’t important or impactful?
Children and adults can often use social comparison to construct their own body image. In other words, in order to decide what we should look like – what the “ideal” is – we look around us, to our toys, our friends and the mass media.
Toys give children some indication of what grown men and women should look like.
The development of a young woman’s body image starts with toys, but is then reinforced by popular media as they get older. There are various studies demonstrating that looking at magazines with pictures of ultra-thin models and celebrities increases adolescent girls’ and grown women’s body dissatisfaction and self-esteem.
The image of the tiny-waisted Barbie is repeated and reinforced. lil'_wiz, CC BY-ND
Playing with the old Barbie doll with her high heels, an impossibly tiny waist and flowing blond hair might make little girls feel bad about their bodies for only a brief period of time. But the image of this tiny-waisted model-like figure will be repeated in the movies and television shows that they will watch, and in the popular magazines that they will read.
Playing with Barbie is just a first step in children’s exposure to media. So, the new Barbie – with her tall, curvy or petite sized body – is also a first step in promoting a much healthier body image for young girls.
Making available dolls of different skin colors, eye colors and hairstyles also signifies an important step in providing children with the flexibility to choose a doll that best fits with their own body image – a flexibility that historically hasn’t always been available to children of all races and ethnicities.
The new Barbie is a step in the right direction, but it is only a first step. We have much further to go in terms of producing media that portray women in a manner that promotes a positive and healthy self-image in developing girls.
When you want brutal honesty, just ask some kids, which is exactly what the good people of BuzzFeed did when Mattel announced that they would be launching Barbies with petite, tall, and curvy body types with customizable hair textures and skin tones. While some people, like curvy model Barbie Ferreira, were happy about the new options, others felt like it wouldn’t make a difference. To find out if these new Barbies are making positive change, BuzzFeed asked kids to give their reviews of the new Barbie bodies.
“I don’t know much about Barbie except she’s, like, blonde,” a brunette girl says in the opening of the video. The comment reaffirms that even kids who don’t play with the doll believe Barbie only has one look.
“Oh, so they’re like, not as tall. Yay, because I’m really short,” the same girl says when she sees the new petite Barbie. Then another girl picks up the curvy Barbie, and shoots a big grin at the camera.
“I really, really like the curvy one, because some people don’t look that much like Barbie,” she says. A young black girl decides her favorite doll is the one who looks like her.
“It’s an African-American Barbie doll, like me, and I love her hair. Her hair resembles my hair!” she exclaims. Amazing.
My name is Jenny and I am a Commodity Consultant for MOCC.
This is a really interesting and touching topic for many people. I remember having my Barbies when I was a little girl and I loved playing with them. I love this concept, personally, as I think it more greatly represents the differences in real women. Obviously, there are going to be those who are left-out of the equation, but it is definitely a step in the right direction and gives more girls the ability to have a doll they can more closely relate to.
Below I have placed my research of some articles I have found to give you a sense of what the rest of the world is thinking.
I hope you will find this insightful.
Mattel has been praised for the release of three new types of Barbie - curvy, petite and tall. They've now gone on sale in the UK but how close do the dolls come to representing the average young woman?
Say the word "Barbie" and you'll probably picture a thin doll with make-up, a mane of straight blonde hair and garish clothes.
Now toymakers Mattel have released three new body shapes. Original Barbie is being joined by Curvy Barbie, Tall Barbie and Petite Barbie. The latest Fashionistas line also features a wide range of skin tones reflecting many different ethnicities.
With children's body image firmly on the agenda, the new dolls' arrival has been met by a broadly positive response. But how reflective are these dolls of young women in Britain and America?
If Barbie were a real woman...
Mattel says it doesn't have a scale that would give Barbie's full-size dimensions. But there is "playscale" - a ratio of 1:6 that governs the size of many toys. If you accept that as a ratio for Barbie then you can multiply all her dimensions by six to find the real-world size.
Like the first ever Barbie, Curvy Barbie is 11in (27.9cm) tall. Multiply by six and you find Barbie would be 5ft 6in. That's taller than the average UK woman at 5ft 3in and slightly more than the average US woman at just under 5ft 4in.
Real-life Barbie has often been credited as being 5ft 9in, but this may come from measuring the doll in its typical high-heeled shoes before scaling up. To simply take Barbie as 5ft 9in would produce a ratio of 6.35 and different measurements.
So what dress size would scaled-up Curvy Barbie be?
You can use the Marks and Spencer's size guide to give a sense of which dress size would fit each Barbie. Curvy Barbie's measurements for this exercise were done using thread which was then measured, so there is a small margin for error.
The M&S guidelines include approximate waist and hip measurements. M&S doesn't go below a size 6, but you can estimate the lower sizes by looking at the difference between the larger sizes. A UK dress size is generally two dress sizes larger than its US equivalent, so a UK size 10 would be a US size 6.
The 1:6 calculations reveal that Curvy Barbie would have a UK size 6/8 waist (63cm or 24.8in) and size 8 hips (91.2cm or 35.9in). Her waist-to-height ratio, which is considered by many a more accurate health measurement than Body Mass Index (BMI), is 0.38 - slim indeed.
She is far slimmer than the average 16-24-year-old woman in the UK. The average British woman of this age is 164.5cm (5ft 5in) and has a waist measuring 79.5cm (31.3in), according to the 2012 Health Survey of England. Those figures on the M&S scale would equate to a dress size 14.
But Curvy Barbie has been praised by commentators as a marked improvement. By the same scaling, if original Barbie were a real woman she would have a size 2 waist (54cm) and size 2 hips (78cm). It's possible to imagine her having difficulty standing upright.
Image copyright Phil Coomes Image caption Stepping out: The difference in gait between a Curvy Barbie (left) and an original Barbie
"The introduction of a new range of Barbies is a welcome move, and a positive step towards improving diversity of toys," says Jemima Olchawski, of the Fawcett Society.
But while Curvy Barbie is closer to reality, Tall and Petite Barbie do not fare so well when scaled up to real size. Tall Barbie would be 5ft 11in (180cm) tall, with a size 4 waist (56.4cm) and size 2 hips (78cm). Petite Barbie would be 4ft 11in (158.7cm) tall with a size 2 waist (52.8cm) and size 0 hips (72cm).
However, were Mattel required to accurately reflect the average British and American woman across all ages, the dolls would be overweight or obese.
The average British woman, at 5ft 3in (161.9cm) with a waist of 87.6cm (34.5in), is classed as overweight using the waist-to-height ratio. The average American woman, at 5ft 4in (162.1cm) with a waist of 95.3cm (37.5in) is classed as obese.
Mattel argues Barbie shouldn't be expected to represent average proportions in the first place. "Barbie is a doll. She is not meant to reflect a real woman's body," says Sarah Allen from Mattel UK. "The purpose of introducing three new bodies into the range is variety and differentiation. When you look at the dolls collectively you can see the range in relationship between the dolls. "
However, psychologist Helga Dittmar, from Sussex University, says this is missing the point. "To say 'Barbie isn't supposed to be realistic' is side-stepping the issue. If there is evidence that the doll does harm, if intended or not, then that is extremely worrisome."
Image copyright Alamy
Dittmar conducted research in 2006, which found that children aged between five-and-a-half and seven-and-a-half years old, were less satisfied with their own body shape after reading a book featuring pictures of the original Barbie. Those who read the same story without the images were not affected.
"The girls said they wanted a thinner body shape than they had. They had lower body-esteems after seeing pictures of Barbie," Dittmar says. "If we show an effect with a single exposure study it stands to reason that the impact increases as time moves on."
But she adds: "It's encouraging that Barbie is now coming in different body shapes, it's a step in the right direction."
Original Barbie Curvy Barbie Tall Barbie Petite Barbie
Height (scaled up) 27.9cm (167.4cm) 27.9cm (167.4cm) 30cm (180cm) 25cm (150cm)
Waist (scaled up) 9cm (54cm) 10.5cm (63cm) 9.4cm (56.4cm) 8.8cm (52.8cm)
Hips (scaled up) 13cm (78cm) 15.2cm (91.2cm) 13cm (78cm) 12cm (72cm)
Lenore Wright, from Baylor University, Texas, conducted a study in 2003 that explored the role of Barbie. She found Barbie's shape didn't really matter to children - her function was more important.
"Barbie offers children a safe and creative arena for modelling and formulating their own images of what is beautiful."
Image copyright Getty Images
However, she believes children today may have a changing relationship with their dolls.
"[There has been] an increase in body consciousness, and it's possible this is being projected on to the doll. Mattel focus groups found many of the young girls called the Curvy Barbie 'fat'," she says.
"But I still think for most children the dolls acts as a prop."
Wright adds that Mattel's new line has been criticised by some feminist scholars for reinforcing an old stereotype - that women are defined by their bodies.
All four of the Barbies have a waist measurement that is close to 70% of their hip measurement. Studies have suggested that men find women more attractive when they have a 0.7 waist to hip ratio, whatever their weight.
Time and sales will tell if Barbie's latest transition is a success. If it is, it opens up the possibility of further changes in the future.
"It's good at least something has been done," Dittmar says, "but why can't we have a well-proportioned body?"
Curvy Barbie: is it the end of the road for the thigh gap?
With four body shapes, seven skin tones, 24 hairstyles and 22 eye colours, Mattel’s new Fashionistas range has expanded the options for its famous dolls
Let’s get straight to the point here, because this is huge news. Barbie has a bum, and thighs that meet in the middle. The doll whose name has become a byword for unrealistic body ideals now comes normal-sized.
Barbie has released three new Barbie body shapes: tall, curvy and petite. Tall is, well, taller than the original, and appears to have broader shoulders. Petite is basically Cheryl Tweedy-Cole-Fernandez-Versini-whatever-she’s-called. But it’s all about Curvy.
Curvy Barbie is still slim. She has a flat tummy and slender arms and her eyes seem to be wider than her ankles. But her plastic legs have a bit of meat on them, and she’s got a bit of a soft Gigi Hadid thing going on around the jawline.
Barbie’s Fashionistas. Photograph: Barbie
After a survey on the fashion desk, we have decided that we particularly like the vibe of Everyday Chic Curvy Barbie, who has boldly teamed distressed cropped jeans with lace-up black brogues. We’re not wild about her loveheart necklace or plastic handbag, but then we’re not eight years old, so what do we know? Second place goes to So Sporty Barbie, a kind of Rihanna-lite in Balmain-ish mesh vest dress and open-toe shoe boots. We also quite like the one in the tight yellow skirt and a T-shirt with horizontal pink stripes: we’re calling her Generic Young Woman on Social Media Barbie.
The full range now has four body shapes, seven skin tones, 24 hairstyles, 22 eye colours – who knew there even were 22 eye colours? – and feet that can wear trainers as well as high heels. What next: Barbie with flat hair?
Introducing the new, realistic Barbie: 'The thigh gap has officially gone'
The next generation of Barbie is to include seven skin tones, different heights and solid thighs. Anna Hart visited the Mattel HQ to meet her maker
The shape – and size – of Barbies to come: dolls petite, curvy and tall flank regular Barbie Photo: Emily Berl
By Anna Hart
2:00PM GMT 28 Jan 2016
Barbie is to receive a dramatic makeover in 2016, toy company Mattel has revealed, as a new range includes three optional body shapes – petite, tall and curvy – as well as seven different skin tones and 24 hair styles.
"We’re exploding a system that’s been in place for 56 years and a heritage that’s been passed down from generation to generation."
Kim Culmone, vice-president for Barbie design
Marking a radical change from the blonde, blue-eyed appearance and implausible proportions of previous models, the updated dolls are intended to better reflect the diversity of the product’s audience and appeal to the shifting expectations of what Mattel called “millennial moms”.
"We were seeing that Millennials are driven by social justice and attracted to brands with purpose and values, and they didn’t see Barbie in this category," Tania Missad, Mattel’s director of global brand insights, told the Telegraph.
Despite some minor variations, there has been little change in the size and shape of Barbie since the first doll launched in 1959. The new range, which is made up of 33 different dolls, is the brand's biggest-ever update.
"There will be people who say we haven’t gone far enough, or people who ask what’s next, question our commitment to this,’ Missad said. ‘Barbie is a lightning rod for conversation, and of course there will be a backlash."
Mattel will be hoping its new-look range reinvigorates demand for Barbie, which has struggled against criticism of the doll’s example for young girls and seen newer models, such as Frozen’s Snow Glow Elsa, overtake it in the toy charts. In October Mattel announced a 14% global drop in Barbie sales, the eighth consecutive quarter in which numbers fell.
Ahead of Mattel's announcement, the Telegraph's Anna Hart took an exclusive look inside the Barbie headquarters, read her story below.
Behind the makeover: Barbie gets real(ish)
More of Barbie's 2016 range Photo: Emily Berl
We’re seated in a Pantone 219-pink-walled boardroom at Mattel HQ in a retail park in El Segundo, Los Angeles. Two wall-mounted clocks relay the time in LA and Hong Kong, and posters of Barbie campaigns and fashion tie-ins adorn the walls: Barbie’s recent collaboration with Moschino, the 2014 Karl Lagerfeld Barbie (currently fetching $4,000 on eBay after originally retailing on Net-a-Porter for $200), plus doting portraits of Barbie in various guises, from astronaut to presidential candidate. But all eyes are on a 12in stand on the boardroom table, draped with a candy-pink veil.
What I and four other journalists are about to witness is the culmination of a highly secretive 18-month operation codenamed Project Dawn: the design and manufacture of 33 new Barbie dolls that mark a radical departure from the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, improbably-proportioned doll we know and love – or hate. Or love to hate. Kim Culmone, vice president of design for Barbie, and senior design director Robert Best admit that it has been tough concealing Barbie’s new look from their friends and colleagues at Mattel, transporting prototype dolls around the building in sealed containers.
"I pick up bigger Barbie by her gratifyingly sturdy waist and surreptitiously nudge up her skirt. I can exclusively report that the thigh-gap is officially gone."
We five reporters have signed non-disclosure agreements and surrendered our smartphones; the security measures at Mattel HQ make getting into MI6 resemble crashing a student party.
Blonde bombshell Barbie is so much more than a pretty face. She’s a multimillion-dollar empire; over a billion of the dolls have been sold worldwide in more than 150 countries, and Mattel estimates that three Barbies are sold every second. She’s a cultural icon, painted by Andy Warhol in 1986 (Barbie, Portrait of BillyBoy*), starring in the Toy Story movies, and inspiring collaborations with fashion designers from Oscar de la Renta (1984) to Christian Dior (1995) to Diane von Furstenberg (2006).
And as a heritage toy brand, Barbie is perhaps the most universally recognised 11.5in of plastic ever assembled, with Mattel claiming 98 per cent brand recognition globally. ‘Right now when you say “Barbie” to someone, a very clear image of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, slim doll comes to mind,’ says Culmone. ‘In a few years, this will no longer be the case. We’re exploding a system that’s been in place for 56 years and a heritage that’s been passed down from generation to generation.’ Tampering with this winning formula was an exercise that could only be undertaken behind locked doors.
A display of Barbie hairstyles throughout the years. Photo: Emily Berl
As the satin veil is whipped off, there’s a gasp in the room. It’s a line-up of black Barbies, tanned Barbies, white Barbies: seven different skintones in total. There is afro hair, curly red hair, tousled blue hair and jet-black straight hair; 30 colours and 24 styles and textures. There are blue eyes, green eyes, brown eyes. Plus there are three new body shapes or ‘archetypes’: a smaller doll, a taller doll, and the one everyone reaches for first – a Barbie with solid thighs, a waist able to accommodate vital internal organs and biceps meaty enough to beat Ken at arm-wrestling.
I pick up bigger Barbie by her gratifyingly sturdy waist and surreptitiously nudge up her skirt. Barbie has had her most radical makeover ever – and I can exclusively report that the thigh-gap is officially gone.
"By making fashion part of Barbie’s DNA, Ruth Handler ensured that little girls would perpetually desire newer and more up-to-date Barbies."
Nobody at Mattel would argue with the fact that at the ripe old age of 56, Barbie needed to have some work done. She kept a pink-lipsticked smile plastered on her plastic face, her hair remained immaculate, and stress never took its toll on her skin, but in recent years, Barbie had let herself go. In 2014 she was unceremoniously ousted from the top-selling girls’ toy spot (by Frozen’s Queen Elsa) for the first time in over a decade, and although she remains the market leader in the fashion dolls category, sales are down for the third consecutive year.
But Barbie – charmed as her life of pink Corvettes, designer garb and plastic mansions may appear – is no stranger to adversity, and comes from humble beginnings. Mattel Creations was founded in 1945 by Elliot and Ruth Handler, from the garage of their family home in California. The Handlers successfully tapped into a thriving toy market buoyed up by the baby boom of the 1950s, the newfound prosperity of the middle classes, and the rapid rise of consumerism, advertising and manufacturing.
As the story goes, inspiration for Barbie struck as Ruth watched her daughter Barbara and her friends playing with paper dolls. The girls used them to role-play teenage and adult scenarios, such as doctors and nurses, cheerleaders and businesswomen. At the time, the only toy dolls on the market were podgy-faced babies to be bottle-fed and pushed around in a pram.
A colour chart of Barbie's hair Photo: Emily Berl
Handler observed that ‘little girls just wanted to be bigger girls’, and realised that playing out adult lifestyles and professions was a natural way for children to form aspirations about their future. ‘My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be,’ said Handler, who died in 2002. ‘Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.’
Barbie also represented a lucrative opportunity to fill a gap in the market. On holiday in Europe, Handler spotted a 12in German doll named Bild Lilli, who was based on a popular satirical cartoon character in Bild-Zeitung newspaper. She had long legs, a slender waist, pert breasts, full make-up and a sideways, sultry glance. Handler carted three Lillis back to California, unaware that the doll was marketed not to children, but to adult men as a novelty gift.
Regardless, Lilli (with a few nips and tucks, and minus her nipples) was the prototype for Handler’s new doll, and after overcoming the resistance of manufacturers (who considered it too fiddly and expensive for the mass market), retailers (who balked at breasts on a children’s toy) and the sales team (who insisted that no mother would buy such an adult-looking toy for their little girl), ‘Barbie Teen-Age Fashion Model’ doll was launched on March 9, 1959, at the American International Toy Fair in New York. Barbie – full name Barbara Millicent Roberts – came in blonde and brunette versions, clad in a fabulous zebra-print one-piece swimsuit and accessorised with cat’s-eye sunglasses.
Buyers were sceptical, placing small orders for this precocious new doll. But Ruth Handler’s instincts paid off when little girls got their first glimpse of Barbie on the shelves. By Christmas 1959, more than 350,000 Barbie dolls had been sold. Mattel Creations rapidly expanded to cope with demand, and by 1965 it was among the top 500 companies in America.
In a shrewd merchandising move, by making fashion part of Barbie’s DNA, Ruth Handler ensured that little girls would perpetually desire newer and more up-to-date Barbies – not to mention the high-profit-margin accessories and clothes.
The first dolls were manufactured in Japan, with their clothes – by fashion designer Charlotte Johnson – hand-stitched by Japanese homeworkers. Today a team of eight face designers and four hair designers produces up to 30 new prototype dolls a week, each taking anything from a day to six weeks to perfect. Some of the design team have a background in engineering or industrial design, others in fine art or graphic design. Barbie also has a team of designers expanding her vast wardrobe, and stylists to make sure she looks perfectly on-trend for ad campaigns and shoots. ‘Her fashions and hair reflect current trends so accurately that it’s easy to identify a doll as from the early 1960s or late 1970s,’ says Culmone. ‘Barbie is a constant reflection of the times.’
The 'entrepreneur' Barbie range, launched in 2014 Photo: Mattel
As well as being a roaring success, Barbie’s personal life was rosy. She began an on-off relationship with the hunky himbo Ken Carson in 1961. A news release from Mattel in February 2004 announced that Barbie and Ken had split up (and an Australian surfer doll named Blaine hit the shelves to keep her company) but in February 2006 they decided to rekindle their relationship following Ken’s makeover.
Barbie has over 40 pets, including cats and dogs, horses, a lion cub, a zebra and a panda. She has been propped up behind the wheel of pink Corvette convertibles, trailers and jeeps; she also holds a pilot’s licence. Her ‘careers’ were ones where women were traditionally unrepresented, including Miss Astronaut Barbie (1965), Doctor Barbie (1987), Paleontologist Barbie (1997) and Nascar [racing driver] Barbie (1998). And her social circle was ever-expanding, with friends including Hispanic Teresa, African-American Christie and Steven (Christie’s boyfriend).
But there have been missteps along the way. ‘Colored Francie’ debuted in 1967, mooted as the first African-American Barbie doll. But critics were swift to point out that she was produced using the existing facial sculpts of the white Francie doll and therefore lacked African-American characteristics beyond a darker skin tone. A year later came Christie, then in 1997 Mattel introduced Share a Smile Becky, a doll in a pink wheelchair. It took Kjersti Johnson, a 17-year-old high-school student in Tacoma, Washington, with cerebral palsy, to point out that the doll would not fit into the elevator of Barbie’s Dream House.
Mattel's Robert Best and Kim Culmone, who are responsible for Barbie's look Photo: Emily Berl
During the 1990s, the Barbie backlash gathered momentum, attacking what the doll stood for. ‘Barbie is the woman who has everything, and every year receives more,’ wrote Eric Clark in his book The Real Toy Story: Inside the Ruthless Battle for the Britain’s Youngest Consumers. ‘The plastic princess of capitalism, with her cars, houses, pools and clothes, invites attack as programmer of little consumers.’
In 2003, Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice outlawed the sale of Barbie dolls, declaring, ‘Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West. Let us beware of her dangers and be careful.’ (In Middle Eastern nations girls play with a doll named Fulla. The same height as Barbie, she has long dark hair and is dressed more demurely: in a black abaya and headscarf for the Saudi market; in more liberal Muslim nations, she wears a white scarf and pastel-coloured clothes.)
By far the loudest chorus of criticism levelled at Barbie is that she promotes an unrealistic body image for young women. A standard Barbie doll is 11.5in tall, equating to 5ft 9in at 1/6 ‘playscale’. Barbie’s vital statistics have been estimated by Yale academics at 36in (bust), 18in (waist) and 33 in (hips). Barbie-bashers gleefully seized on the observation by Finnish researchers in 1994 that Barbie lacked sufficient body fat to menstruate. (In 1997, Barbie’s body archetype was redesigned and she was given a wider waist – although Mattel insisted this was so she could better model 1990s crop-tops and wide-leg trousers.)
The real threat to Barbie’s empire is not Islam, or anti-capitalist campaigners. It’s 21st-century mothers. ‘Around 18 months ago, we realised we had a problem with moms,’ says Evelyn Mazzocco, senior vice president and global brand general manager. ‘They saw her as vapid and lacking depth.’
Specifically, Mattel has a problem with ‘millennial moms’. Tania Missad, director of global brand insights, leads all Mattel’s research on its girl brands. Delving far deeper than sales figures and demographics aggregated from a panel of market research companies, Mattel also analyses social media to eavesdrop on what is being said about Barbie (they know, for example, that 85 per cent of online chatter about Barbie on social media is driven by young adults venting about the brand, not parents) and conducts both formal focus groups and informal play sessions every day of the year, in which psychologists observe behavioural patterns, and product designers scan for ‘dexterity issues’, such as a child fumbling with a new fashion item.
‘We were seeing that Millennials are driven by social justice and attracted to brands with purpose and values, and they didn’t see Barbie in this category,’ says Missad.
At Mattel headquarters in California, Barbies through the decades are on display, awaiting the next generation of taller, tinier and curvier dolls Photo: Emily Berl
Compared to Baby Boomers and Generation X parents, ‘Millennial moms’ were more likely to question institutions and harbour anti-consumerist sentiments. ‘Girls still love Barbie,’ says Missad. ‘But moms, and specifically Millennial moms, were having a real crisis about whether they wanted their children to play with Barbie or not.’ Mattel cannot afford to lose Millennial moms. ‘It’s currently a small group, but it’s a growing group,’ says Missad. ‘It’s the future.’
This ‘red flag’ led to an urgent re-evaluation of brand vision and corporate restructuring. ‘We dismantled the commercial advertising and re-engineered our advertising with a mom-directed strategy,’ says president and COO Richard Dickson. ‘Previously we grew our business by making 15-second commercials directed at kids.’ This was replaced with a YouTube ad titled Imagine The Possibilities, which became the most-watched advert on the site in October 2015, and won awards for deftly positioning Barbie as a catalyst for little girls’ career aspirations. One young girl appears in a lecture theatre teaching, one is a paleontologist, another a vet.
But the most powerful weapon in Mattel’s charm offensive targeting Millennial moms is the army of 33 new-generation dolls. With this new breed of Barbie, Mattel has created a doll for children to play with, and adults to talk about. ‘When kids play with Barbie dolls, they don’t get hung up on this,’ says Best. ‘Diversity is a bigger adult conversation.’
And the conversation, in tightly controlled focus groups with mothers and daughters, has been overwhelmingly positive. ‘We’ve had a lot of “Amen”s and “Finally”s from moms,’ says Missad. Naturally, there will be critics who dismiss it as tokenism, or point out that the bigger Barbie is still definitely not fat, and is attractive in the most conventional of ways: big eyes, high cheekbones, flawless skin, taut limbs.
‘There will be people who say we haven’t gone far enough, or people who ask what’s next, question our commitment to this,’ sighs Missad. ‘Barbie is a lightning rod for conversation, and of course there will be a backlash.’
In December Evelyn Mazzoco showed the new Barbies to three key retailers – Target, Walmart and Toys R Us – and the sole note of negativity was that they had only a matter of weeks to prepare stores for Barbie’s metamorphosis (the new dolls will reach the UK in February).
There are significant logistical complexities for retailers, such as shelf space and display units. ‘And just like in real life, not all clothes will fit each doll,’ observes Best. For the first time, Barbie will know what it’s like to be unable to squeeze into her friend’s jeans. ‘But Barbie can handle it. She’s a big girl,’ he says, with a laugh.
Curvy Barbie has thighs and a bit of a booty and she — along with just-released petite Barbie and tall Barbie — is supposed to be shaped more like real women than traditional Barbie, who is notable for her tiny waist, enormous breasts and perpetually pointed toes.
Curvy Barbie — part of Mattel's new Fashionistas collection — is supposed to promote body acceptance and body diversity.
Except I'm not sure she does.
Curvy Barbie is quite cute and she arrives on the scene at a time when Barbie is struggling to be relevant. After years of declining sales, Barbie reported a 1% increase in gross sales for the fourth quarter of 2015, according to MarketWatch. (It is the first increase in world-wide sales since the third quarter of 2013.)
Curvy Barbie is available with a variety of hair colors, including blue, and in a variety of skin tones. She is $9.99 at mattel.com. She should be available in stores next month.
But aside from being a little larger, her proportions aren't that different from those of traditional Barbie. She too has an idealized figure, a definite hourglass shape. Curvy Barbie's figure is that of perfectly proportioned plus-size models — who, for the most part, really aren't plus sized at all. Her body is that of actresses Christina Hendricks, Queen Latifah, Mindy Kaling — celebrities who may be on the large side, considering Hollywood's narrow standards, but whose bodies are generally accepted and even admired by the masses.
If Mattel really wants to promote a full range of body sizes, it would make a doll that looks like actresses Rebel Wilson or Gabourey Sidibe. They aren't curvy, they are big, actually obese — a quality the general public doesn't consider desirable.
So in that sense, Mattel is playing it quite safe. People will buy curvy Barbie, but will they buy double chin Barbie? Probably not.
But here's the thing — I'm confused about why Barbie's body is an issue at all.
The Monster High dolls are painfully thin and lack the proportions that would ever exist on a regular girl. The Bratz dolls do, too. And Elsa and Anna from "Frozen" aren't exactly big girls.
They're all fantasies — fantasies don't necessarily look like real people. And they're allowed to remain fantasies.
Monster High doll. (Photo: Amazon)
Barbie, it seems, is not.
Perhaps it is because she is an icon — with collectors and conventions devoted to her very existence — and carries more importance than other dolls. In many ways, one could consider Barbie the first modern woman doll — she has her own high-powered careers, she has her own money. And maybe she has a responsibility to change with the times.
Or perhaps it's about all about money. According to Time magazine — which had inside access on the revamping of Barbie — the No. 1 request of parents in Mattel focus groups was for Barbie to look more real, despite the fact there's never been anything remotely real about Barbie. (Seriously, who paints her house pink? The resale value!)
So while this may be portrayed as an issue of promoting body diversity, it really doesn't feel that way.
It feels like a money-making gimmick.
And maybe that's the most realistic thing ever about Barbie.