Unless you’ve been hanging out under some rocks, you maaaaaay have heard Mattel’s news regarding their new Barbie doll line, Fashionistas. You know, these girls:
I think they’re absolutely lovely. And the fact that such a prominent brand of dolls has finally decided to branch out to different body types, skin tones, and hair types is such a relief.
Because this is my doll collection, well, some of it anyway:
I also have a Tuxedo Mask and at least two Aurora dolls, but they’re in a different box and weren’t easily accessible. And since I only pulled these ones out for the purposes of pics for this post, I couldn’t be bothered to find the rest of my dolls.
But I want you to take a look at these ones real quick.
What do they all have in common? Take your time, I can wait while you figure it out.
They’re all white! Well, Gracey’s purplish-grey, but that could just be her makeup since she’s supposed to be the physical embodiment of Disneyland’s The Haunted Mansion. Purple’s a big color at The Haunted Mansion. Underneath the makeup, though, I bet she’s white. The other girls in the Attrationistas line are all white.
Full disclosure: I’m a white girl. Like, really white. My family’s Welsh, Irish, English, Cornish, and Scottish. So I’m super white, but because of the Welsh in my genes, I tan fairly easily as long as I’m careful with the sunscreen and sun exposure. If I’m not careful, I burn ridiculously quickly because Irish.
ANYWAY. Point is, I’m super white. Whatever.
Growing up, all my dolls were white. I didn’t have very many dolls other than Barbie since she was the most prevalent in toy stores. My cousins had Barbie dolls, my friends had Barbie dolls. The only non-Barbie that I recall seeing during doll playtime was Stacy, Barbie’s reddish-brunette friend. And I think my cousin Stacie owned her. Because name. Also Stacie’s a redhead, so it made sense to our grandma? Dunno. I just know she wasn’t one of mine.
The problem I had when I was little was that all my dolls were blue-eyed blondes, which is what my cousin Toni is. I am not. I’m a green-eyed brunette (ignore any recent photos of me being a redhead; it’s not natural). So the only doll I remember owning that remotely looked like me was a Pretty Crimp ‘n Curl Cabbage Patch Kid.
And she had blue eyes!
I realize that as a white girl, I have very little room to complain about all the white dolls in the market. But it’s weird that, even as a white girl, I still couldn’t find a doll that looked like me unless I wanted to spend more than $100 for a Just Like Me (now called Truly Me) Doll by American Girl. For slightly more money, you could get one of their historical girls. And the brunette, Samantha? Brown eyes. So I went with the doll who had an interesting story.
I owned Kirsten, a blue-eyed blonde little girl. She was cute, and I loved her story and I owned her from when I got her on my twelfth Christmas to just a few years ago, when I gave her to my younger cousin who only had an American Girl doll on her Christmas list, but she didn’t get one. Kirsten was just sitting on my shelf, being cute in khaki overalls and a rainbow striped shirt, and so I thought she should go to someone who would actually play with her. That said, you’ll notice that all my dolls are still in their boxes and Kirsten wasn’t and I didn’t like seeing her gather dust in her hair. Made me sad.
Also, I just poked through the American Girl website to look at the dolls and I noticed something really unsettling. Every doll has the same face sculpt. They all have the same head shape, the same eye shape, the same button nose, the same pencil thin eyebrows, and the same little mouth with the tiny two front teeth showing. Even the named dolls. The only one that looks different is Kaya and that’s only because her mouth is closed. It’s weird looking at them. I mean, Addy and Samantha shouldn’t look identical except for skin tone and hair type. It’s really kind of creepy. (Also, also, the closest Truly Me doll to what I looked like as a kid still doesn’t look like me. The hair color’s a little too light and there’s no freckles option. Boo.)
One of my best friends is Filipina and we’ve been discussing representation in media and toys for a while now. And when the Barbie news dropped, I realized that she could finally find a Barbie doll that looks similar to her, a petite, brown-eyed, brunette.
On her FB profile with the link to Mattel’s announcement post she said:
YES YES YES YES YES!!! as someone who was always torn between going for the barbies that matched my eye shape or my skin tone but not both, this is AWESOME. representation matters so much.
also, barbie is doing a vlog series and highlighted mae jemison [not just any woc/astronaut/dancer/scientist but THE first african american woman in space, who was inspired by nichelle nichols as lt. uhura in ST:TOS] to prove that you don’t have to pick just one passion to pursue in life. pick all the passions!
And in our messaging convo later:
i was gonna add like, i did have specifically filipina barbies
but those were like
not the kind you actually played with
and i’m not 100% sure if they were ever available in the US
That’s not right. Kids of every color and size should have the option of getting toys of human characters that look like them.
This isn’t restricted to just dolls and toys, either. If you look at popular movies made for kids, there still isn’t as much representation that everyone deserves to have. Let’s look at the Disney Princess lineup for a second:
Looooooootta white ladies. Also, of those eleven “princesses” (Mulan is not a princess; she’s a military general!), wanna guess which ones don’t get as many toys as the rest of them? Yeah, Jasmine, Mulan, Pocahontas, and Tiana. I am not kidding.
During the 1990s, Disney got a little better about focusing on stories from varying cultures, so we were given awesome poc characters. Since 1990, we got Aladdin (1992), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), Mulan (1998), The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), Lilo & Stitch (2002), Brother Bear (2003), The Princess and the Frog (2009), and Big Hero 6 (2014). This is just the features, not including the direct to video sequels and the television series spin-offs. So it’s some progress, but not much. Because that’s only eleven feature films out of the twenty-six Disney released since 1990.
The bottom 75% of that graphic depicts characters in the stuff since 1990. Still predominantly white. I’m not counting the animals; they’re animals.
What I also find worrying in children’s toys and media is the lack of diversity in body types. All the leading ladies are thin and gorgeous with big eyes and tiny waists and perfect skin. If a female wasn’t thin, if she was even the slightest bit heavier, she’s most likely a villain of some kind. If she hasn’t been evil-ified, she’s probably a mother or grandma or wise old woman and mostly absent throughout the story.
Except for Nani and Lilo.
God, I love Nani and Lilo. So much.
BUT! Even when there is an awesome heavy female character, like say, Ursula from The Little Mermaid, she’s seriously mistreated when she gets a fashion doll. Look at this injustice:
Ngh. Love the dress, hate the tiny waist they gave her.
What’s wrong with keeping fat characters fat when they get a toy? I truly don’t understand why they felt the need to slim Ursula down.
There’s been a lot of negative backlash against Barbie‘s Fashionistas line, but not as much regarding the new darker skin tones as I had expected. No. People are pissed about her:
Why? Why does everyone hate her? Well. Compare her to Barbie’s original measurements for a moment:
Because when these angry people look at the Curvy doll, they don’t see a woman with full hips and breasts and thicker legs, they see a fat woman. Maybe she is and maybe she isn’t. Mattel hasn’t released her measurements, so we can’t scale them up to human proportions yet. So what we know is that she’s bigger than original Barbie. And apparently, that’s the Worst Thing Ever.
There are people commenting on Mattel’s FB post, saying that she’s going to encourage kids to not care about their health and she’s going to teach kids that it’s okay to be overweight (fyi, it is so long as your eating habits aren’t a one-way ticket on a train bringing you directly to Cardiac Arrest Mountain. Bad metaphor is bad, but my point stands).
Even Jen of Epbot, a blogger I’ve never had any issue with, posted her reaction to the Fashionistas line on Epbot, a place I’ve always felt safe, and said:
I’m ashamed to admit it, but seeing the new “curvy” Barbie next to her original mutant form gave me a knee-jerk, negative reaction.
And judging from 95% of the comments I was able to read before clicking away in disgust, most everyone else thinks she looks “fat,” too. Fat. Her.
Granted, that’s not terribly horrible. But I think it never occurred to me that Jen would even have that reaction to Curvy Barbie. So I was really thrown by it.
And then I decided to read the comments on her post because her other readers are a group of people I can identify with. They’re primarily unashamedly geeky women with a love of fanart and DIY. But for the first time in the almost eight years I’ve been reading Epbot and its comments, I was feeling hurt.
Because Curvy Barbie looks like me.
We have the same figure, the same skin tone, her eyes are green, and hell, I’ve even had blue hair at one point. I finally found a doll that I liked, who looked like me. And people were saying some pretty hurtful things about her.
I think curvy Barbie looks fat compared to Lamily, because the latter is wearing clothes that fit (even if it’s just a nice bikini) vs too-tight ones that show off her poochy tummy. And also look really stupid to me, no matter what shape the boy might be inside them.
And then they started tearing into her outfit:
Not sure if others have mentioned this, but the curvy Barbie looks fat because of her OUTFIT. Who designed that thing?! The skirt, by curving inward again, just emphasizes her hips ( a sure-fire way to look fat, especially in plastic). (and makes a bubble-like appearance, never flattering). And the corset top… why does it jut out at the end? That little flair only makes her look even wider at the hips than she really is. It’s little, but this is also a little plastic doll, so it has the appearance of adding on another inch or two. That kind of top better suits real people, or a thinner (/more uniform in waist!) doll.
It’s like the doll makers WANTED her to look fat…
Well. Maybe they did want her to look fat.
Or maybe they wanted to make a doll of a curvy woman who wasn’t ashamed of her curves, who loved her curves and didn’t want to hide them.
What is with this society and its obsession with tiny hip measurements? I truly don’t understand why everyone is disgusted by women who don’t want to hide their body just because runway models are rail thin.
What is it teaching kids to be so annoyed by people who don’t conform to fashion magazines’ physical ideal?
What is it telling our friends when we say we don’t like the way a character or doll looks because she isn’t original Barbie or Cinderella?
Why can’t we have characters and toys that look like actual people?
Why is it a thing that when we FINALLY get a doll with wide hips, everyone around us has to hate it with horribly loud opinions that impact those were initially excited for it until even they don’t really want to look at the new doll?
Why is this a thing that our society thinks is okay?
Tell you what: if you don’t like the new direction Barbie‘s going in, you can go hate the new dolls quietly over in your corner of the internet. In this corner of the internet, I’ll be happily dusting my new Curvy Barbie doll’s box.