In the midst of feminist empowerment and diversity movements growing among teenage girls and women all over the world, an army of dolls are also getting in line to expose these issues to the younger demographic. Love it or hate it, Mattel and Netflix are on the forefront trying to make little girls and boys play with different body shapes and skin colours.
The most heated debate is centred on the Barbie Fashionista line. Fans of the blue eyed and blonde haired doll can now play with a tall, curvy or petite Barbie as well as seven skin tones, 22 eye colours and 24 hairstyles. A big discussion on social media, many think this is an “adult hang-up” – an issue too soon to be showed to young girls, while others congratulate the initiative, as shown in this article from Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3422410/Social-media-users-slam-Barbie-s-diverse-makeover.html). Mattel calls it an “evolution of the doll” previously known for unreal waist and body proportions.
“We are excited to literally be changing the face of the brand — these new dolls represent a line that is more reflective of the world girls see around them — the variety in body type, skin tones and style allows girls to find a doll that speaks to them,” said Evelyn Mazzocco, senior vice-president and global general manager for Barbie, in a press release back in January, when the news about the launch came up.
Despite the discussion, the new line just became available for consumers. The first ones to play with the new Barbie dolls showed to be receptive to the new features as seen in this video by Buzzfeed:
What specialists think?
Barbie is also shaking the world of academia and articles defending and attacking the concept are emerging on the web. According to Vanessa LoBue, from the Department of Psychology at Rutgers University Newark, “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.” (http://theconversation.com/why-the-curvy-new-barbie-is-good-news-for-your-little-girl-55008).
Or there’s Rajul Jain, from DePaul University, who wrote a passionate article stressing the message Barbie tells is still wrong: “What is needed instead is revolutionary thinking around the values that new Barbie should stand for: ambition, leadership, compassion, and kindness.” (http://womensenews.org/2016/02/new-shapes-and-colors-dont-change-the-barbie-effect/)
More dolls on the stand
But Barbie is not alone in this fight. American Girl, also from Mattel, is turning 30 and will debut this summer a black doll, the third one in the brand’s history. The release of Melody Ellison is trying to show kids a chapter of black history: the 1960s civil rights era. Check her out: (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/american-girl-30th-anniversary-debuts-third-african-american-historical-doll-melody-ellison/).
Project MC2 (https://www.facebook.com/ProjectMC2/) encourages girls to explore STEM related subjects. It is a doll line and Netflix Series emphasizing that STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) isn’t only for boys. The show recently joined Netflix on their commitment with the US government to help break down gender stereotypes in media and toys. They also refute the stereotyped blonde and skinny dolls by showing girls of different ethnicities and with their own characteristics. To know more about the initiative with the White House, click here: (https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/04/06/factsheet-breaking-down-gender-stereotypes-media-and-toys-so-our).
On top of these big brands, there are crowd funding campaigns and small toy companies around the world trying to address the same issue. A model is making her point with her own line of toys. Mala Bryan makes dolls with textured and curly hair, brown skin colours and clothes inspired by the African and Caribbean culture. The dolls have their own Instagram account (https://www.instagram.com/malavilledolls/) where the hashtags #afro #blackgirl and #blackgirlmagic appear in a bunch.
Maybe it is too soon to make a conclusion on the subject, but the new toys are on the shelves and we’ll see in the near future if they will be embraced or forgotten by the most important subject matter experts: the kids. Make your bets.
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