Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few millennia, you will know that women come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, have different colour hair and different sized bottoms. There is a large chunk of the female population who have trouble fitting into ‘normal’ clothes.
Now Barbie is having real-world problems too – and people are lapping it up.
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Naturally, it is the curvy Barbie that is attracting the most attention, and even though she is probably only a size 12 equivalent, she is obviously different from classic Barbie, with a fuller face, plumper tummy, wider hips and thighs, bigger feet and – gasp – a proper sized bottom.
Mattel have warned parents that many of Classic Barbie’s designer clothes won’t fit new Curvy Barbie. They probably won’t even make it up her new generous calves, let alone over her ample thighs. Not only that, but Classic’s towering stilettos also won’t fit Curvy’s new bigger and flatter feet.
I feel like I have a lot in common with new Curvy Barbie.
While the three new body types are obviously what is going to generate the most interest, Mattel are also releasing Barbie dolls with seven different skin tones, 22 different eye colours and 24 different hair styles.
I didn’t even realise that there were 22 different colours for eyes and can’t help wondering at what point a well-meaning (and money-grabbing) attempt to represent diversity becomes a supply glut in next year’s clearance bin.
When I was growing up, my sister and I had four Barbie dolls between us. My mum sewed a lot of their clothes, and it was an eye-opening experience for me when my older sister lopped the hair off one of her dolls, so Barbie could have a ‘boyfriend’. We weren’t allowed a ‘real’ Ken doll, but we managed thanks to Barbie’s new ‘do’ and our forgiving imaginations.
The 2016 Fashionist Collection, image courtesy www.kids.barbie.com
I still have those four dolls and their now vintage outfits. They live in a large plastic tub along with 60 or so other modern Barbies, fake Barbies, Barbie wannabes and scary Pony/Human hybrids. Yes, 60 – that wasn’t a typo.
I showed my oldest daughter a picture of the new curvy Barbie alongside her Classic counterpart, and watched her face as she processed the changes. ‘I like it,’ was the verdict. ‘She looks more real. A bit like you.’
Will I be buying a new Curvy Barbie for my daughters to play with? Probably.
Do I think she is a (slightly) more realistic representation of the female body? Somewhat.
Do I expect her to change the way my daughters think about their changing bodies? No. Because ultimately Barbie is still a doll and my daughters will treat her like a doll. They will take her clothes on and off, and make her talk and fly and dance. They will tease her funky blue hair, chew on her feet and lose her new, cute Mary Jane wedges.
My daughters play with an Elsa doll who is missing both legs and an arm, an 80s Barbie with no neck, an Ariel doll with no tail and a terrifying fake Barbie who keeps losing her hair. None of these dolls play a role in my girls forming an opinion about their own bodies, so it is unlikely new Curvy Barbie (or classic skinny Barbie) are going to either.
There are many more important things that will influence how my daughters establish their body image – with myself, their Dad and their friends all at the top of the list. If Mattell think I am going to leave something as important as that to a toy company, then they obviously haven’t done their research properly.
Growing up in the 1980s, the phrase body image hadn’t even been coined yet. I knew Barbie was terribly skinny and had big breasts, but not once did I think that I needed to grow up to be like her. I may have just been a dumb kid, but Barbie was a doll, not a role model.
And so it will be in our household, when Curvy Barbie comes to stay. Yes, there will be moments of frustration when some of the clothes don’t fit her voluptuous frame. Yes, there will probably be a few sniggers about her bottom. But I expect that Curvy Barbie will be absorbed into the already diverse line-up that constitutes my daughters’ imagination. And just like the ‘boyfriend’ doll of my childhood, new Curvy Barbie will be made into whatever the active imaginations of my three daughters want her to be. They probably won’t even notice her chubby thighs.
She will be too busy being an invisible mermaid teacher or human friends to the ponies.
You can buy a Curvy Barbie on eBay now or wait until she ends up in the clearance bin of your nearest toy store.