Barbie dolls have “evolved”: Boasting four body types, seven skin tones, 22 eye colors, 24 hairstyles and “countless on-trend fashions,” the new Fashionista dolls represent the “biggest change in Barbie’s 57-year history,” according to Time.
What’s behind the shift?
The radical change could simply stem from Mattel’s need to improve its business strategy. From 2012 to 2014, Barbie sales fell 20 percent and continued to fall last year, according to Time. Meanwhile, the Elsa doll from the film Frozen became the most popular girl’s toy, so it was necessary for the makers of Barbie to find more ways to compete in the market.
But it could also be influenced by changing attitudes toward beauty, and Barbie’s need to adapt to the times. When Barbie brand head Evelyn Mazzocco entered her role in 2014, she took note of the toy’s critics, using their words — such as “out of touch,” “materialistic” and “not diverse — to help inform her decisions on where the brand should go. “I wanted to remind myself every time I came to work about the reality of what is going on with the brand,” Mazzocco said.
What happens now?
The new Barbie dolls will be sold solely on Barbie.com while Mattel “negotiates with retailers for extra shelf space to make room for the new bodies and their clothes,” according to Time. This could take a while, given the incredible array of skin tones, hair and body types Barbie now has. Likewise, there’s a concern about how to package these new body types. “Mothers surveyed in Mattel focus groups expressed concern over giving the new dolls to their daughter or a friend of their daughter’s,” Time wrote. “What if a sensitive mom reads into the gift of a curvy doll a comment on her daughter’s weight?”
What are the critics saying?
Some say that Barbie’s new diversity, while laudable, isn’t going far enough. “I wish that she were curvier,” one woman told Time. “There are shapes that are curvier and still are beautiful.”
Others say that Barbie’s shift from the blonde-haired, wasp-waisted classic is confusing. “I brought my daughter to a Christmas-tree lighting with Santa and Barbie the other day,” a focus group mom told Time. “If a black woman or a redheaded woman or a heavyset woman had shown up, my daughter would have been like, ‘Where’s Barbie?’
The bottom line? “Yes, some people will say we are late to the game,” Mazzocco said. “But changes at a huge corporation take time.”