In late January, 2016, Mattel created the one of the largest changes in the doll world to date: they rolled out an entire line of diverse dolls, with differing skin tones, weights, and heights. Since 1959, one singular Barbie has dominated the shelves. That Barbie was blonde, white, and skinny. She had body proportions that, if replicated on a human, would mean the she couldn’t walk. The Barbie created in 1959 has been constantly criticized and called out for “enforcing harmful beauty standards” on young children. The new dolls, which come in “petite,” “tall,” and “curvy,” will hopefully create new body positivity in young children.
While the change may seem relatively insignificant, it reflects a large change in popular sentiment about “correct” body types. Racial and size diversity is immeasurably important in children’s dolls. When we are young, we often judge our self-worth off models around us. With the “old” Barbie, that model is one that is skinny, with a “perfect” model body for young girls. This “perfect model” leads to conformity and exclusion of bodies that can’t necessarily match how Barbie looks. The dolls encourage a different beauty standard, one that is more realistic, and doesn’t encourage every girl to aspire to look “just like Barbie.”
Acceptance in a Normalized World
The new Barbie rollouts represent an important change in our culture, where our bodies can be accepted just how they are. We learn how the world works through toys, and diversity is necessary to overcome the alienation that so many young girls face. Once we make diversity a norm for small children, it has the potential to create a different world where everyone is not held to the “Barbie standard.” This kind of acceptance is necessary, especially in a world where so many young teens die from eating disorders and suffer from low self-esteem based on their looks. Body positivity is crucial in a world of normalization. “Curvy” and “petite” bodies are criticized and told to work out more, or to eat more. While many say body positivism encourages poor health behaviors, it’s actually a lot simpler than that – it is simply an attempt to allow girls to feel accepted, instead of feeling like their bodies are a problem to be dealt with.
While young children can be body positive just by owning toys, it becomes a little harder to love your body as a young adult. Body positivity isn’t just for young girls, it’s for all of us – we can be positive about our bodies and create healthy self-images as young adults and adults too. It is actually much easier than you might think – splurge on that cute dress, make meals for yourself, or dedicate a day out of the week to do things that make you happy. If we love our own bodies, we are much less likely to allow those around us to tear us down through words or actions. Once we create a culture where it is normal to be a little chubby or not have perfect features, we can take down the all-too-common patriarchal beauty standards girls face today. Girls shouldn’t have to be white, skinny, and have perfect blonde hair to be normal, because we all are beautiful, just in different ways.
The new Barbie models reflect a growing sentiment in our culture that is more accepting of different standards of beauty and how bodies fit into those standards. We need to encourage everyone, young or old, to love themselves and not uphold themselves to beauty standards created to control us. Once we take individualized actions that promote self-love, it becomes harder to be taken down, creating a more productive society for all.[Image Attribute: RomitaGirl67 on Flickr]