Barbie has historically been white, blonde, and unrealistically shaped. But Mattel seems to be getting it right now, offering diverse skin tones, body shapes, and career choices for their dolls.
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We Looked for Barbie’s Diversity, And Mattel Finally Created It

Barbie has historically been white, blonde, and unrealistically shaped. But Mattel seems to be getting it right now, offering diverse skin tones, body shapes, and career choices for their dolls.

By Angela Repke

This past December, my husband and I got a babysitter and trudged through the Michigan snowstorm to Toys R’ Us. We hunted for presents that Santa would deliver to our two small children. We had just finished picking out some new Star Wars Lego sets for my son, and my daughter was next. Her uncle planned on spoiling her with her first doll house, so Santa was going to bring her a couple of new Barbies to go along with it.

We turned down the bright pink aisle of Barbie Land. As the pink highlighted our faces, we searched for a doll that we thought our daughter would like. My daughter is fierce, so initially we were looking at some superhero-type dolls: Wonder Woman or Super Woman possibly. She had also recently gotten into gymnastics, so we thought that she would like Gymnast Barbie, too. And as I looked down the aisle, my feet rooted into the floor, and a feeling of despair swept over me.

“All of these Barbies are white,” I said to my husband.

“Most are, yeah,” he said back.

“What the hell?” I asked.

We are a white family and I want my kids to embrace diversity. Luckily, the school that they go to isn’t all-white, so they’ll learn about other rich cultures that way. But I was pissed. Growing up as a Greek-American with bushy eyebrows, I took notice that I looked a little different. Even as a white girl, I yearned to be whiter. And as a little girl who adored playing with my white Barbies, I think that if I had had the chance to play with dolls who looked different, maybe even like me, it would have helped my confidence.

My husband and I began analyzing the aisle.

“She looks Latina,” I said to my husband.

“Hmm, I think she’s just a brunette,” he responded. “Her skin doesn’t look dark enough.”

“Well, there’s another black doll over there,” I said. “But this still sucks.”

When we got home, being the innate researcher I am, I headed to the Internet. Turns out, Mattel released a new line of Barbies about one year ago called The Barbie Fashionista Line. It was supposed to include different looking Barbies, ones every child could relate to. But my husband and I certainly did not see these diverse Barbies represented on that snowy evening. It was like they threw the token Barbies sporadically on the shelves just to say that their company demonstrated diversity.

But recently, to honor International Women’s Day, they are finally pulling through. Mattel rolled out their new line called “Inspiring Women.” These new Barbies will not only look diverse, but they will also showcase women who have used their brains, grit, artistic abilities, or physical strength to defy the historical norms placed in front of them. In a press release, Lisa McKnight, the Senior Vice President, said, “Girls have always been able to play out different roles and careers with Barbie and we are thrilled to shine a light on real life role models to remind them that they can be anything,” Examples will include Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist; Chloe Kim, the snowboarder; Yuan Yuan Tan, the Chinese ballerina; Vicky Martin Berrocal, the Spanish designer; and more.

After leaving the toy store on that snowy evening, I thought, Kids need to have more options in what their dolls look like. Period. And now, months later, Barbie is finally starting to truly embrace diversity.

Many girls want to play with dolls that they can identify with and that are different than they are. But they need options. My daughter’s birthday is in June, so when the sun is shining, my husband and I will be hopeful to see some of these Barbies from the “Inspiring Women” line down that same pink aisle. And although Frida wasn’t Greek, her eyebrows mimic my daughter’s much more than what we saw on that snowy evening months ago.

Yes, my daughter will get to play with those bushy eyebrows, ones that I always wanted to see when I was a girl.


About the Author

Angela Anagnost Repke lives with her family of four in Michigan. She turns to writing to help in both her daily blunders with her children and rediscovering herself again outside of being a mother. Angela is the Managing Editor and Contributor to the Genesee County Moms Blog. She has been published in Scary Mommy, BLUNTMoms, Her View From Home, and Mothers Always Write. She is passionate about the camaraderie of motherhood and hopes to unify women through her writing. She is at work on a memoir. Follow Angela on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram