You might have heard that Barbie now comes in four different body types. On top of the original body type she is known for (tall, thin, busty, and blond), she also comes in tall, curvy, and petite. The top secret project apparently took years to take shape (ha) and even came with a code name. The Times’ cover story about this development is well worth a read and includes a great video about it to boot.
In it, the author states how Mattel “hopes that the new dolls, with their diverse body types, along with the new skin tones and hair textures introduced last year, will more closely reflect their young owners’ world.” I understood this as meaning that the toy company hopes its new line of Barbie dolls will better reflect an increasingly small world in which diversity seems to be multiplying daily.
The original Barbie had quite a few dedicated haters, to say the least. And while indeed having access to only one kind of doll could imply that other body types and hair and skin colours are not worth being modeled, having access to a whole array of them does not inherently mean that we will learn to appreciate beauty in its full diversity.
I’m glad that there are new body types for Barbie, but I feel like we need to be careful not to go overboard. More specifically, we don’t want the pendulum go completely the other way and have a tall, thin, blond girl be labelled as ugly—which would be a reflection of what happened not long ago with the ban on super skinny models.
The release of Barbie in four body types and so many skin and hair colors is a great step in the direction of broadening our definition of what is beautiful. And just like with the original Barbie, it provides for a great discussion tool. Material things are for the most part not inherently bad; the original Barbie in a home of women who are secure in their bodied, whatever it may look like, wouldn’t cause body image issues.
Similarly, the new dolls in a home of women who are constantly verbalising how unhappy they are with how they look will not solve the body image issue just like that. I hope that we will challenge ourselves to use both the original Barbie and it’s three new body types as a teaching tool for both ourselves and our children to learn what real beauty is all about. Or, conceptually speaking, how can we solve the root cause of this challenge: to look not just at the body, but at the entire person, body, mind, soul, and spirit, when we discuss the concept of beauty?