As the holiday season rolls around, many parents and grandparents are heading to toy stores to fill those spots under the tree. One toy that seems to always find a place on Christmas lists is Barbie.
“It’s year after year. It just continues to be an item,” said Michelle Flemington, store manager of Toys “R” Us in Okemos, Mich. “It’s been around for generations.”
But recently, Barbie has changed its look a little bit. In 2016, Mattel released a new line of Barbies that features dolls with several different skin tones and body types alongside the typical blonde toy.
According to Mattel, the doll will now come in four different body types and seven skin tones, with 22 eye colors and 24 hairstyles.
“I think (the change has) been gradually moving along, I think maybe in the last three years you’ve seen it a little bit more you know with Barbie in particular and with what kids want, and what they want their toys to do,” Flemington said.
Barbie has often been criticized for its unrealistic proportions and beauty standards it has put on young girls. However, shopper Amy Feinaur says she has seen that change since she was a young girl.
“I have noticed the changes since I was a kid and had barbies versus now,” Feinaur said. “There’s so much more out there, and I think they are trying to probably cater not necessarily to the stick figure or the traditional type of Barbie.”
Feinaur says in today’s society it’s essential for young girls to have that inclusivity of different body types.
“I think that’s a big thing because when I look in the media I see a lot of either objectification, or this idea that you have to be a certain size, and you have to be super thin in order to be the ideal looking girl or woman, so I think, in terms of that, it’s great because it makes the kids and the girls realize there’s not just one size.”
In November, Mattel announced that they would be releasing their first hijab-wearing barbie modeled after Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. Flemington says this representation for different types of nationalities is important.
“Barbie is a classic toy, so I think even more so to see that and to know and to incorporate that it is all nationalities, ethnicities – it’s everyone that has endless opportunities to explore who they want to be,” she said.
However, while the toy company has made the efforts to nix the unrealistic body standards, shopper Angela Hour says it just might be a little too late to change the perception of this iconic image.
“I don’t know that it’s making a difference because they still have this Barbie image that isn’t a real image,” the mother said. “I mean to me, that makes girls think that they need to look like Barbie and skinny and all this stuff.”
Whether it has worked to create an inclusive image or not, Flemington says Mattel’s ability to change with the times and grow the brand of Barbie is the reason behind its longevity.
“I think that’s the only way it will continue to expand, grow, stay that iconic type brand that’s out there,” Flemington said. “That will continue, but you have to keep up with what kids want and what interests them.”