Mattel has unveiled curvy, petite and tall versions of its iconic fashion doll whose unrealistically thin shape has attracted criticism for decades.
When it comes to Barbie’s body, it will no longer be one size fits all.
On Thursday, Mattel unveiled curvy, petite and tall versions of its iconic fashion doll whose unrealistically thin shape has attracted criticism for decades.
The three body types will also be sold in an assortment of skin tones, eye colors and hairstyles.
The move is about more than just making Barbie look different. While Barbie was once Mattel’s powerhouse brand, sales have plummeted as the doll has struggled to remain relevant to little girls who do not look like her and who play with toys other than dolls.
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“This is about drawing a wider demographic that had turned away from Barbie back to Barbie,” said Jim Silver, the editor of TTPM, a toy review website.
Barbie’s latest makeover began in a big way last year, when Mattel released a broad assortment of dolls in a greater number of skin tones, eye colors and even facial structures as part of its Fashionistas line.
“I think today, frankly more so than any other time, Barbie is truly representing what girls see,” said Richard Dickson, who is Mattel’s president and chief operating officer and is in charge of Barbie’s reinvention.
But some industry experts and academics have long doubted that cosmetic changes — whether racial or ethnic or body shapes — can revive the popularity of the 57-year-old Barbie, whose sales have been declining by double-digits in recent years.
Executives like Dickson have been optimistic, pointing to signs that Barbie’s in-store sales began picking up last year. Still, third-quarter sales in 2015 — the most recent figures available — showed Barbie sales fell 14 percent from the same period a year earlier.
The slump may also be partly attributed to the shift away from traditional toys toward electronics and games, as many parents and children have clamored for less gender-specific toys.
Companies like GoldieBlox have sprung up to offer girls more career-oriented toys, and even Lego, the world’s top toymaker, has had to alter its strategy and some of its building-block lines to accommodate the growth in the market for learning toys that appeal to boys and girls.
Dickson has been steering Mattel’s marketing campaign to focus more on Barbie’s career ambitions than her body image. A new “Imagine the Possibilities” ad, for example, features little girls picturing themselves as teachers, coaches and other professionals.
Barbie’s aspirations have translated to Mattel’s products: Hello Barbie, the interactive talking doll, asks children about what they want to be when they grow up — a far cry from the Barbie who once claimed that “Math class is tough.”
“The ones in multiple skin tones did phenomenal for Mattel, and it showed them that people wanted much more than the blonde, blue-eyed Barbie,” Silver said. (Mattel unveiled an African-American Barbie in the late 1960s, and the first Asian Barbie appeared in 1980 as part of its “dolls of the world” collection.)
Still, Mattel executives have struggled to rebrand Barbie as an aspirational figure, one not so closely identified with her unnatural body measurements.
“It’s hardly a bolt of genius to say let’s make dolls that look different,” said Sean McGowan, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. “It’s more like saying ‘Yeah, we stuck with that one single iconic image for too long; let’s try multiple ones.’ ”
The new dolls are available for pre-order online and are expected on shelves at major retailers in March.
While some of Barbie’s old clothes may fit her fuller-figured, taller or shorter friends, Mattel plans to introduce outfits tailored to the new body types.
“I think as a woman it’s about time, and as a physician, I strongly support that,” said Dr. Kelli Harding, assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, who has a background in body dysmorphic disorder. “For a little girl, it’s important to have diversity in what they’re playing with.”
Mattel is remaining tight-lipped about how it came up with Barbie’s new proportions. It’s part of the “art and the science,” as Dickson put it, of creating any toy.
Barbie’s new shapes also coincide with a progressive cultural shift under way in stores and the toy aisles.
Parents and many health experts have complained that too many dolls, models and even clothing companies conform to an extremely thin, even anorexic, body type and have pressured corporations to offer a broader variety of images and apparel sizes to give girls and boys more confidence in their own body shapes.
And some parents, concerned about stereotypes, have pushed retailers into gender-neutral territory.
Last year, for probably the first time in Mattel’s history, a Barbie commercial featured a boy playing with the doll.
“I think that this is bigger than Barbie’s shape, because this really gets at gender inequality in the United States as well,” Harding said.