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I’m a guy, so Barbie wasn’t big on my radar as a kid. But, all the girls I knew had one – usually two or three Barbies with all the clothing options. And did they ever love playing with that doll – and dolling her up. But, over time, we all became aware of the issues with Barbie’s unrealistic anatomy and lack of diversity in appearance. We realized that concepts of normality and body image had a serious impact on young girl’s self esteem. Or, as Time Magazine put it, “Faced with changes in beauty ideals, shifting demographics and ongoing criticism of Barbie’s impossible proportions, Mattel decided to remake the iconic blonde.” It had been clear for a long time that Barbie’s body shape was some extreme idea of female beauty that didn’t jive with real life. Somebody was fantasizing more than a bit about anatomy when creating Barbie. Recently, Mattel tried to respond to charges that Barbie was a terrible role model for little girls and began to make a few changes. She grew up a bit, had a boy friend, Ken. She had models of the doll that aspired to – or already were in – a professional in life. Barbie was no longer just a pretty face. Yet, her general body shape stayed the same with a waist that couldn’t possible have room for a woman’s internal organs and tiny feet that were more in keeping with bound feet in ancient to 19th century China. As an aside, Chinese foot binding, seen as a sign of wealth and marriage eligibility, occurred for a millennium – from the 10th to 20th centuries in China. Woman with bound feet could barely walk at all. It was finally outlawed in 1912 but was ingrained in parts of Chinese society and still occurred for a while. Well, think about it, high heel shoes may just be the continuation of this bizarre status practice called foot binding. And, Barbie sure had small feet for those tiny high heels to fit.

Well, this year, under both pressure from feminist and other critics, and, competition from other dolls more realistic in shape, Mattel unveiled the results of a top-secret project entitled “Project Dawn.” The result was the unveiling of 3 new Barbies that represent more diverse – and many would say realistic – body types for women. Barbie now comes in 4 styles; the original, petite, tall and curvy. Since 85% of American girls ages 3 to 10 currently own a Barbie, this change could impact a lot of girls. I reviewed the new Barbie dolls in pictures and sense that this is a step in the right direction. Two of the 3 new Barbies will now have larger feet and waists that look more realistic. Also, the curvy doll has a fuller face. Oh, and Mattel now makes a Barbie with articulated ankles so she can wear flats. And just in case you’re wondering what Barbie’s long-time boyfriend, Ken, thinks of all this, Mattel has an answer: ‘The woman I love has changed. We honor and support her courageous metamorphosis. But, I do not plan on loving her any less. I Will Always Love Barbie, No Matter Her Size.’ Remember, that carefully written comment is from the Mattel promotion department! Wow. Ken sounds regretful. He seems resigned to her new shapes, as though getting used to some far less than ideal fate.

However, Mattel is jauntier about the new Barbies. Mattel notes: “

Girls everywhere now have infinitely more ways to play out their stories and spark their imaginations through Barbie. Along with more overall diversity, we proudly add three new body types to our line.” Mattel obviously wants to send out an empowering message that Barbie can be who she wants to be in the body she was born with. And Mattel has launched the new options with video ads that underline Barbie’s new bodily diversity and career options.

Well, I think it’s a good direction given Barbie’s eternal popularity, though more than a bit late given the 57-year age of the product. But, there are still some issues with the new Barbie. Here’s some other views on today’s Barbie line. comments on the continuing presence of some of the doll model’s “anatomically impossible body dimensions” and wonder about some of the Barbies “with a ridiculous waist tiny feet so small she would inevitably tip over.

A Yahoo commentator was unimpressed with the new Mattel ads on TV: “This is clever marketing to promote a stronger image for Barbie. “Nice try Barbie, but if any of you parents have allowed your child to watch the current Barbie videos on Netflix or Amazon Prime, you will quickly see that Barbie is only concerned about beauty, fashion, boys, and vanity. I allowed my 5-year-old to watch it and was appalled and disgusted that little girls see this and are taught to believe it’s ok.”

An associate professor of psychology at Oregon State University, Aurora Sherman, has studied the effects of Barbie on young girls’ career aspirations. She thinks the ads are clever but: “It’s humorous, it’s colorful, it’s very engaging…but at the end of the day, this is still a company that sells far more Disney Princess Barbies than professor, coach, or veterinarian Barbies.” Since the Barbie career models are usually not on most store shelves, girls are less likely to imagine themselves in those roles. Sherman concludes, “From what we’ve found, playing with Barbies is not the route to achieving those careers.”

And the expansive Times Magazine article, leery of a half-hearted effort to create a truly empowering doll, said: “Barbie today may be more realistic looking than at any other point in her 57 years. But her changes are superficial, and Mattel is still very much inside the pink box.”

Well, realizing how popular Barbie is, I guess many of us put quite a bit of value on how Mattel presents their feature doll’s diversity, empowerment and possibilities. We can be thankful that there are so many other positive messages and role models for young girls these days than when Barbie first emerged super slim and smiling almost six decades ago. Mattel has a ways to go and needs to just embrace the full, positive potential of girls – and let the doll model that.

Looking ahead, I’d like to think that young girls can soon enjoy playing with dolls, including a version of Barbie, that both excite and expand their dreams – without the baggage of past domestic and damaging appearance obsessions. Here’s to Barbie growing up even further.

Ken Speaks: ‘I Will Always Love Barbie, No Matter Her Size’
Mattel confronts its feminism problem with this new ad for Barbie

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