I have been expecting whack things from Barbie ever since Barbie and Ken got divorced as a media stunt back in 2011. Yes that happened, yes he won her back with a “Justin Bieber haircut” and yes it involved a Hulu dating show called My Genuine Ken. The show was about competing to be “the great American boyfriend” and was hosted by Whitney Port from The Hills. (There’s even a “Genuine Ken” song you can listen to if you’re super bored.) Then there was the time Barbie appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated‘s swimsuit issue to promote her #unapologetic stance on the effect she has on our perception of women.
As you can see, Barbie has spent a long time trying to appeal to adults looking for a “buzzworthy” advertising stunt. But do little girls care if Ken woos Barbie out of divorce with billboards ads that say, “Barbie, you are the only doll for me?” It’s no wonder Frozen‘s royal sisters have taken Barbie’s coveted spot in little girls’ hearts.
Despite my skepticism about all things Barbie, today’s “Evolution of Barbie” announcement gave me pause. There at the center of the new Barbie website was a pear-shaped Barbie that looked like a seapunk Kardashian. Her friends represented a range of skin colors, ethnicities, and hairstyles. Compared to these new beauties, the blonde one is easy to overlook.
I knew right away that in this group, the Kardashian one was the “me,” because I am short and pear-shaped and, maybe, on the inside, blue-haired. I imagine many women (and girls) looked at this gaggle of dolls today and thought, “this one is the ‘me.'” And that’s something, considering Barbie has made a career out of being aspirational rather than relatable.
When I saw that the Kardashian Barbie was Mattel’s idea of a “curvy” girl, I felt disappointed. “Oh look, they have all kinds of body types now!” we are supposed to say. But in Barbie world, the only four body types that exist are
1) Tall (And stick thin)
3) Petite (and stick thin)
4) Original (tall and stick thin and stacked)
(Note that Original is the only one with arrows. There are 12 originals, and only 7 of the other three body types.)
Seeing my curvy Kardashian girl set apart from the other girls made my stomach sink a little bit. Something about singling her out as “curvy” made her seem distinctly “other” in a way that went against the spirit of this whole redesign. They didn’t get to be tall or short. Curvy was enough of a description on its own. Plus “curvy” didn’t seem particularly accurate. She’s still pretty skinny, with tiny arms and muscular legs. She could probably fit into a medium at The Gap. I wouldn’t call exactly call these dolls a bold attempt to represent women of all figures.
Other than feeling compelled to point this out, I am mostly intrigued by these new Barbies. After I watched the video Time magazine made about the Barbie team taking on this venture, I felt like the people at Barbie HQ seemed pretty damn cool. There’s a lady who just makes Barbie hair!
If I worked at Barbie, I would view today as a day to be proud to go to work. Aside from the expanded body type and ethnicity representation in this lineup, these dolls are cool. They have funky hair. They have style and they even have facial expressions. I was never interested in Barbies much as a kid (I preferred the historical adventures and plausible body types of American Girl dolls), but there are dolls here I would actually have wanted. I mean this curvy Barbie could totally slay all the guys at Kendale high or whatever.
Other than that, I think I can pinpoint the celebrity some of these were based on:
See if you can spot some other celebrity resemblances. That’s not a bad thing. It’s cool if a little girl can play dolls as Joan from Mad Men.
To Mattell I say, not bad. Curvy girl isn’t that curvy, and that sucks, but you did make some leaps when it comes to representing the style and individuality of modern women. That’s not a bad place to start.