The company that has introduced millions of Barbie dolls to children across generations has unveiled new versions that look more like the children who play with them.
Mattel is now claiming to be the most diverse doll line, with its recent launch of dolls that have vitiligo, a prosthetic leg and no hair. Even Ken, Barbie’s companion throughout the decades, has a new look with longer hair that stops just below his shoulders.
In the promotional video for the new toys, a blond and blue-eyed Barbie’s plastic face is displayed with text that reads, “This is Barbie.” The ad then shows a split screen of a brown-skinned Barbie with brunette hair and a prosthetic leg next to a black Barbie with textured hair and vitiligo. The camera pans across differently painted Barbies.
The new era of Barbies is a far cry from the milky-colored doll that made her first appearance at the American Toy Fair in New York City nearly 61 years ago. That’s intentional, Lisa McKnight, senior vice president and global head of Barbie and dolls portfolio at Mattel, told The Washington Post in a statement.
“We are proud that Barbie is the most diverse doll line on the market that continues to evolve to better reflect the world girls see around them,” she said.
The United States was nearly 89 percent white and recognized only male and female genders at the time Barbie was introduced, according to census data. The nonwhite population today is nearly 24 percent, and more teens are identifying as transgender or gender nonconforming.
Mattel adapted its dolls to reflect the shift. It launched gender-inclusive dolls of various shades and hair types in September. The dolls met a growing need for gender-neutral toys, the company’s vice president of global consumer rights, Monica Dreger, told The Post.
A spokesperson for Mattel told CBS News that its latest round of dolls is an attempt to show all forms of beauty.
The doll with vitiligo, a skin disease that causes loss of pigment in patches, was created with the help of dermatologists to make the doll’s appearance more realistic, according to a company statement to The Post. Vitiligo can affect a person with any skin color, though it looks the most significant for people with darker skin tones.
Barbie fans requested a doll with vitiligo, McKnight told USA Today. The skin condition has been promoted and normalized by fashion models such as Winnie Harlow and Shahad Salman.
The doll with no hair is intended to encourage children who have experienced hair loss of any kind, according to the company.
The different looks, which are part of the brand’s Fashionista line, were created to “better reflect the world girls see today,” according to Mattel’s website.
Over the years, Barbie has introduced a hijab-wearing doll in honor of Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, Barbies in the STEM field and Barbies representing different races and ethnicities. There are more than 170 dolls with different skin tones and hairstyles for children to choose and see themselves in.
While trying to give children more options, the brand hasn’t always been successful.
A curvier, dark-skinned doll with purple hair received negative reviews on Mattel’s website and mixed reviews from consumers on the sites of other retailers for an appearance that many said was reminiscent of blackface.
Other Barbies, however, have fared well with consumers.
A curvy black Barbie with an Afro and a Barbie who uses a wheelchair were top sellers for the brand last year, according to the company. In the United Kingdom, 1 in 4 dolls sold are Barbies with a wheelchair.
“Our commitment to better reflect the world drives a powerful conversation, and we know our efforts are resonating with eight consecutive quarters of growth and the Fashionistas category up double digits in 2019,” McKnight said.