Barbie takes a step toward empowering their young customers

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IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR MATTEL – Shown at the New York Toy Fair, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, the Barbie Fashionistas line continues to be the most diverse and inclusive fashion doll line on the market. The 2019 collection features a doll in a wheelchair, prosthetic limb, new body type and hair texture. (Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Mattel)

In 2016, Barbie started a new modern collection of dolls called “Barbie Fashionistas.” These dolls were different from the traditional Barbie, and not just in terms of a different outfit. These Barbies came in different body shapes: curvy, tall, petite and original along with seven different skin tones. This more inclusive and more empowering collection is Barbie’s new initiative to modernize the messages it sends to young consumers.

Through this new initiative, Barbie is attempting to produce dolls that “will more closely reflect their young owners’ world”. The fundamental characteristics of Barbie owners are bound to change from generation to generation because society never stops evolving. Perception of beauty has changed, and the role of women in society has modernized, so the traditional Barbie is outdated.

In contrast with the generic Barbie era, this new initiative taken by the company is very empowering to young women through its promotion of self-acceptance, positive body image and gender equality. Eliminating the traditional feminine status quo lifts the restrictions caused by gender stereotypes and instead pushes for equality and freedom of expression that is not bound to gender. In 1992, “Teen Talk Barbie” was introduced to the public; this doll is programmed to say phrases, and one of them was “Math class is tough.” This sent a very discouraging message about quantitative thinking and academic motivation to young women. Through the new initiative, Barbie is attempting to tear down the symbolic barrier they set years ago and encourage girls to empower themselves in academia. This adjustment is necessary today, with the modernization of women’s role in society. More women are entering the workforce, seeking high-level education and pursuing rigorous careers that were traditionally perceived as “masculine.”

Barbie has been closely connected to the traditional “beautiful” physique, and it has been one that girls aspired to attain for generations. “A 2006 study published in the journal Developmental Psychology, found that girls exposed to Barbie at a young age expressed greater concern with being thin, compared with those exposed to other dolls”. With the modernization of body image and the variety of movements that promote positive body image and condemn shaming of any body type, Barbie should take a new approach to body image as well.

In 1963, Barbie sold a doll that came with a “diet book that recommended simply, ‘Don’t eat.’” Body image has shifted dramatically from diet-based to health-based lifestyles, because of society rising in awareness of physical and mental health, based on insightful medical findings. With this change, Barbie should also promote health and wellness in this campaign. I believe that if Barbies are made in all different body types, this should also include a “Fit Barbie” to encourage girls to live fit and healthy lifestyles. It also sends the message that going to the gym is not just a ‘guy thing’ and that fit girls are no less feminine than any other girls.

Barbie is sending a very valuable message to young women about positive body image. If Barbie chose to widen their variety of dolls to include different body types, it should teach girls that girls with all body types should live healthy lifestyles. Like the other strong messages part of Barbie’s new initiative, wellness is a very strong source of empowerment. The physical, mental and emotional benefits of living a healthy lifestyle have an empowering effect on women, so they should be encouraged in Barbie’s initiative. It is important for girls to widen their perception of beauty and know that the generic Barbie is not the only definition of beauty. The different outfits with which these new dolls are sold represent different careers, conveying that any woman can pursue any career and that young girls can dream big.


Keren Blaunstein is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus.  She can be reached via email at keren.blaunstein@uconn.edu.

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