Will Mattel's changes to Barbie help promote a healthy body image with young girls?

Frances Cain

By Frances Cain

March 3rd 2016 at 10:48AM
UPDATED March 4th 2016 at 12:14PM
Will Mattel's changes to Barbie help promote a healthy body image with young girls?

With Mattel revealing three new body types for its iconic Barbie doll, A Girl for All Time’s Frances Cain looks at what the move does to promote a healthy body attitude in girls.

Barbie now comes in a raft of sizes and shapes and all colours of the rainbow, and if I am not mistaken, a grand total of seven skin tones and 22 eye shades.

Social media had an overall positive reaction to it and there have even been some fairly funny spoof responses as well – check out the Ken ‘dad-bod’ posts.

Barbie, or rather Mattel, has been under criticism of late for promoting and manufacturing a product that has long been out-dated with a quite frankly ridiculous dolly-figure.

This unrealistic body aspiration can, in fact, have a potentially negative impact on children. According to decades of research, children do indeed receive messages about their own body image from toys that they play with.

A lot of the origins of this change for the Barbie brand has been driven by social-media savvy Millennial parents. Millennial parents, defined as those born between 1980 and 2000 and number 22 million in the US alone, spend more time on social media than any other group before them, sharing their ideas and opinions including what to buy, what not to buy, and why you shouldn’t buy it.

There is a teeny (cynical) part of me that wonders if sales were unaffected, would Mattel be so keen to jump on the body-image-wagon and address the issues that surround Barbie and her ungainly physique?

But don’t get me wrong - Mattel’s changes to Barbie can only be a definitive step forward.

The pro-girl flag-waving protagonist in me thinks that any positive change that comes about to encourage our girls (and boys) to have a healthier attitude towards themselves and others can only be a change for good.

But once again, I have to wonder why girl’s play is so centered on looks. And does the Barbie re-vamp only serve to shine a laser beam of light (once again) onto the issues of what looks good, bad or unrealistic, rather than what is healthy, beneficial play?

Time will tell if Mattel’s strategy is in time to save Barbie and make her more relevant in today’s world, but I would love to see girls’ toys move away from constant body-focused issues and instead focus on celebrating intelligent play for girls, without making it about looks.