Barbie is back: #TheDollEvolves

Alexia Gilbert discusses the return of Barbie more than 50 years after she first appeared on our shelves

15th February 2016

The proportions of the original doll were so unrealistic that scientists revealed a real woman with the same figure would find walking, digesting and, well, living, impossible. But after years of controversy, the company has just released Fashionistas, a new line of dolls featuring a more diverse range of skin tones, hair textures and body shapes.

The collection has received praise from many and has even made it onto Oprah’s ‘Favourite Things of 2015’ list. Coming from a woman who’s often regarded as the most influential in the world, that’s pretty good going and will no doubt reassure many parents that these dolls are a sensible toy to give to their children. But is this the right decision and will the new dolls be as popular as the original?

the company has just released Fashionistas, a new line of dolls featuring a more diverse range of skin tones, hair textures and body shapes

Despite the collection featuring 23 different hair colours, 18 eye colours, 14 face shapes and 8 skin tones, given the choice as a child I almost definitely would’ve stuck with the classic Barbie or one of the almost unrealistically skinny dolls from the new range. Perhaps this is a direct result of playing with Barbie dolls like these during my childhood. After all, the dolls have long been used as a standard for what’s considered beautiful. This will not be helped by the fact that the old Barbie will continue to be produced alongside the new range. Not only does this make a child’s preference to own the original doll possible but it also gives the impression that this is the ‘normal’ one.

In the words of Oprah ‘the new Fashionista Barbie collection lets all kinds of girls see themselves in their dolls.’ And, for me, that is precisely the issue. Whatever the case, young girls are forming a perception of what they should look like (based on a piece of plastic) at an age when that really shouldn’t matter. There are so many other toys on offer that have nothing to do with physical appearance and instead encourage children to use their minds in more creative, constructive ways that are proven to have a positive long-term effect.

For me the best thing about this new line is the increased racial diversity of the dolls, something I think will prove incredibly popular amongst children and will almost certainly have a positive effect. Quite honestly, it is a shambles that this hasn’t been done sooner. However, other than that there are still flaws in the Barbie brand that need to be seriously considered. Let’s hope Vogue is right when it says: “Here’s to celebrating a new generation of children who will grow up referencing a more expansive, inclusive definition of beauty – and the healthy self-esteem that comes with it.” I personally believe the best way of achieving this would be to ignore Barbie entirely and instead opt for toys that have nothing to do with body image whatsoever.

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