Kids’ Response to Barbie’s Makeover Shows Need for Diverse Dolls

The new line features four body types and seven skin tones.
Jan 28, 2016·
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Long straight hair and a tiny waist: Since 1959, that’s what most Barbies have looked like, save for a few limited-run figurines that resemble celebrities such as author J.K. Rowling and director Ava DuVernay. But now Mattel, the iconic toy company, isn’t just making figurines that look like celebrities: It’s making dolls that look more like the children who play with them.

“I like them,” one girl gleefully says in a Mattel video while clutching the dolls to her chest. “This one looks like me, and this one looks like my mom.”

On Thursday, Barbie executives unveiled a line they’ve been working on for the past two years that includes four body types and seven skin tones. The traditional Barbie with long blond hair and an 18-inch waist isn’t going anywhere, but she’ll be sold alongside dolls categorized as tall, petite, and curvy. The new dolls also feature such customizations as freckled faces, different hair textures, and 18 eye colors.

According to the company, the new Barbies are designed to represent women of different shapes, sizes, races, and ethnicities.

“Our goal was really to celebrate all types of beauty, and a blond-haired, blue-eyed doll like Barbie is still beautiful, just like now the more curvy Barbie with dark hair and darker skin is just as beautiful,” Evelyn Mazzocco, general manager of Barbie, explained in an exclusive video for Time.

While some have applauded the more career-oriented Barbie dolls that have popped up in recent years, the brand has continued to face consumer criticism because of the unrealistic body proportions and lack of racial diversity.

Part of the impetus to give the 56-year-old line a makeover was slumping sales, according to Time. Kids and their parents have been looking to doll lines that better represent real women and are accompanied by a stronger message—or a major motion picture. Barbie’s reign as the top-selling doll ended in 2014 when Elsa, the star of the animated Disney movie Frozen, took the top spot. While Elsa’s magical powers are difficult to compete with, Barbie executives hope that parents and kids will be drawn to dolls that better reflect a growing generation. By 2020, the majority of children will belong to a minority racial or ethnic group, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“When you see them all together, it looks like this tribe of young girls, the way a kid might see that reflected in their own circle of friends, or their family or at school,” Robert Best, Barbie’s senior director of product design, told Time.

Designers admit that there are challenges ahead—different-size dolls will need different-size outfits—and they’re expecting some consumer backlash. Hashtag #Barbie has been trending on Twitter since Thursday morning; some users say the new sizes still aren’t realistic, while others are applauding the brand for embracing diversity.

Not everyone is digging the new looks, but the youngest customers seem pleased with Barbie’s transformation.

“It’s important for Barbies to look different,” a girl explains in a video as she tussles the hair of a redheaded doll. “You know, like the real people in the world.”