Last week, toy company, Mattel, made a revolutionary announcement on the cover of Time Magazine. For the first time in her 57 year old history, Barbie has a new body.
Gone is the sole production of the controversial, one-size-fits-all, skinny, blonde, big-boobed Barbie. Now along with the ‘traditional’ model, Mattel have released a range of ‘Fashionistas’. These are Barbie dolls available in 3 more sizes, petite, curvy and tall, in 7 different skin tones, and with a variety of hair textures including straight, curly and afro. The launch is perhaps Mattel’s biggest attempt known to address sustained and heavy criticism for the promotion of unrealistic body ideals amongst young girls and a severe lack of ethnic diversity despite today’s growing multicultural societies.
Music and fashion are finally taking note. Thanks to the curvaceous Kardashians, J-Lo and Beyoncé, the rising popularity of plus-size model, Ashley Graham, and global marketing programmes such as the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, pop culture appears to be taking (baby) steps as it slowly clears the way for voluptuous to make its comeback, and ethnicity accepted and embraced.
Mattel say that they want their dolls to reflect this, to mirror our changing perception of beauty which is why they now offer Barbie in shapes, sizes and races that every little girl can identify with. But do we really buy it?
Over a number of years, Barbie’s brand performance has been suffering. Sales of the All-American sweetheart have been in sharp decline, falling by a huge 20% from 2012 to 2014, with 2015 showing further significant losses. Could this clever repositioning provide the boost in revenue and profits that Barbie desperately needs? Are people ready to spend on a healthy and wholesome Barbie? Or will Mattel’s launch simply result in brand dilution, greater financial losses and more memes mocking relatable Carbie Barbie?
*The original version of this article was first published on 05/02/2016