The Barbie Brand Puts an Emphasis on Diversity

Over the past few years, Mattel has been working on making Barbie dolls more inclusive.

In 2015, the Barbie Fashionista line was first introduced, which featured dolls with a variety of attributes other than what was exhibited on the classic small waisted, large chested, blonde hair Malibu Barbie doll. So far, the Barbie Fashionista line features seven body types, 11 skin tones, and 18 different hairstyles. The line also includes three different versions of Ken with different body types: broad, slim, and original.

Set to launch later this year in the same Fashionista line, are dolls with additional body types and disabilities. Among the new collection, there will be a doll in a wheelchair, and a doll with a removable prosthetic leg. “For 60 years, Barbie has been a reflection of culture and fashion and that is key to the brand’s continued relevance,” Mattel said in a statement. “As we design Barbie for the next generation, we are focused on evolving to remain the most diverse doll line in the marketplace. This year our Barbie line will include dolls reflecting physical disabilities in order to better represent the people and the world kids see around them. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is a critical component of our design process and we are proud that today’s kids will know a different image and experience of the brand.”

Mattel originally released a doll in a wheelchair in 1997, named Becky. The product sold more than 6000 units in the first two weeks of its release, but kids and collectors quickly noticed that the wheelchair didn’t fit through the doors of Barbie’s Dreamhouse. Instead of altering the Dreamhouse to be more inclusive towards Becky, Mattel considered altering Becky’s wheelchair size, but eventually, Becky was discontinued entirely.

Karin Hitselberger, a blogger who wrote about the discontinuation of Becky said “Having a doll in a wheelchair sends a great message to disabled and nondisabled children alike, but if that doll cannot fully participate in the fantasy society it is a part of, it just reinforces the message that disabled people are different, and disability is problematic.” This time around, however, it’s been noted that a proper accessibility ramp that can be installed in Barbie’s Dreamhouse will be sold, too.

The overall reception to Barbie’s promotion of inclusivity has been extremely positive for the most part, and that’s not just because Barbie is diversifying, but because Mattel actually did their research before creating their new products. In order to create the most relatable experience and accurate representation, the Barbie team worked with the UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and 13-year-old Jordan Reeves, who has a prosthetic arm. Reeves, who has become a disability activist, is the same girl that successfully petitioned for American Girl to create a doll with a prosthetic limb.

“That was one of our first big ahas,” Kim Culmone, Mattel’s vice president of Barbie Design, told Teen Vogue about making Barbie’s prosthetic leg removable. “That’s not necessarily something we would have realized how important it would be to someone living with this experience.”

This announcement comes on the heels of the introduction to over 230 new, more inclusive emojis that are set to release soon! Apple & Android emojis are set to feature biracial couples, non-binary people, service dogs, prosthetics, and people signing with ASL.

Representation matters, and for giant brands and commodities to properly realize this is without a doubt a great achievement that children and adults everywhere should celebrate wholeheartedly.