We Love Barbie’s New Looks, But …

Photo: Mattel
barbie's new look

Every woman I know has an opinion about Barbie.

Whether we love them or hate them, most of us played with Mattel’s billion-dollar-per-year doll when we were girls, just as our moms did. And these days, increasingly more boys are feeling empowered to play with the blonde-haired leggy one, too. But not all parents are comfortable giving their kids a Barbie doll.

America’s relationship with Barbie has long been troubled. Her proportions are physically impossible for real-life humans, and her beauty has only ever fit one: The standard blonde-haired, blue-eyed, thin-bodied white girl.

A New Era For Barbie

But Mattel is trying to do something different. Today they launched a new series of Barbies, called “Project Dawn”. Redefining Barbie, in Mattel’s vision, would allow more girls to find bodies, hair types and skin colors that reflect them and the women and girls in their lives.

It’s a beautiful idea, and a necessary one. Our girls deserve better than just one standard of beauty for femininity. But it was also necessary for Mattel, which is losing market share to LEGO and all of the Disney Princess dolls.

This is a huge risk for Mattel, too. As noted in TIME’s cover story, this new series of Barbies will need two different sizes of shoes, and not all of the clothes will fit each doll (but, you know, that’s just like real life). Our team also noted that all of the new Barbies express very standard feminine beauty standards.

Even the doll with punk, short hair is wearing a very girlie mini-skirt. So while there may be more body and ethnicity diversity, there is still only one way to be a girl or woman in the world of Barbie. She’s never butch, not even a tomboy, and according to the images we’ve seen so far, she’s also not very sporty.

This is in direct contrast to the real lives of girls, who are playing sports more now than ever. Girls are just as likely to be seen in cleats these days as miniskirts, but that’s not part of what we’re seeing from Mattel in this launch. Fingers crossed that will come in the future.

Parents and kids would love to see Barbie in a goalie uniform (complete with shin guards and cool gloves), or buy a Barbie set where she wears a tee shirt and jeans, and has a skateboard and helmet. If Mattel needs a reference, awesome examples of badass little girls playing sports have been going viral in a campaign launched by a fashion photographer who turned her lens on powerful little girls, called #ShePlaysWeWin

credit: @hellochristinrose

And unlike Mattel’s brilliant forthcoming DC Superhero Girls, these new Barbies don’t represent strength or action as of yet. Where are the muscles? Where is the one who can slide into home base or win the 200 meter dash?

Even with these nitpicks, Barbie’s new diversity campaign is a massive change, and one I’m incredibly grateful for. Mattel will have many hurdles to jump with this campaign, but the hard work is worth it. Our kids deserve dolls that represent them in all their glorious diversity. Let’s hope this is the beginning of something great.