Since 1959, Barbie has been a strong representation of how young generations perceive society and beauty standards in a great number of countries. From the very beginning, these plastic dolls have adopted a huge social responsibility to encourage their users to “be who they want to be” while playing with their figures and customizing them to their liking. However, at the same time, they have also received a significant backlash on more than one occasion against their highly stereotypical image that wasn’t exactly a synonym for inclusion and diversity.
Taking into consideration that for years now, people have fought against false human idealizations and unhealthy standards that are far from who we truly are or how we look like, products and brands have faced the challenge of changing their strategies and making sure that what they offer to the market is in tune with these principles and ideas. In Barbie’s case, they have stumbled across many struggles in their inclusive journey, and after what seems to be a long wait, it finally looks like they’ve found their way to embrace the social diversity that we all stand for.
Barbie’s stereotypical beginning
When we think about this brand, the first image that probably comes to mind is the one that corresponds with the initial Barbie physique: a perfectly symmetrical plastic doll with blonde hair, hourglass-shaped body, long legs, fair skin, and blue eyes; a description that has nothing wrong in the appearance itself but that was mainly inspired by the conservative and highly refined beauty ideals of Ruth Handler (its creator) instead of portraying a more natural approach to human looks. Even so, Barbies were a great hit from the very beginning, and people would consider them as the ultimate toy for their girls to play with.
With time, they came out with different collections and characters that would complement the Barbie family, and most importantly, presumed to go accordingly with the different social or political moments that occurred throughout the years so that it would enforce the sense of realism that always came implied with every single doll. But as decades went by and society began to be more aware of the value of diversity in their surroundings, consumers started reflecting on Barbie’s social contribution and how the particularly perfect appearance of these plastic dolls wasn’t exactly the definition of inclusion they were eagerly fighting for.
And all that made the brand focus more on expanding their product selection, leading them to create several campaigns under the inclusivity label and finding out, through trial and error, which would be the best way to go on this very important matter.
Barbie’s critiqued inclusion
Like every other company that wants to remain active within the market, Barbie ultimately had to listen to its clients and branch out its doll collections, some of which were not well received by the audience despite the brand’s efforts to draw attention to the different cultures around the world.
In the 1980s, they launched their “Dolls of the World’’ collection which intended to teach children about the world’s cultural diversity while highlighting what they thought were the most emblematic aspects of each of the countries included, such as China, Australia, Argentina, Ireland, India, Holland, Chile, and Mexico. These dolls were dressed in “typical attires” and came along with their respective pets, an idea that was naturally expected to succeed since it had a logical concept behind it, but instead of this being a tribute to these cultures, it ended up being a launch full of stereotypes that upset buyers especially within the portrayed places.
Barbie steps towards inclusivity
Despite its past mistakes, the band kept trying to find a way in which they could diversify their products while staying true to the reality of people’s lives and looks so that clients could actually connect with their dolls in more than just a playful way.
As of right now, they seem to have learned the lesson and they have come up with so many campaigns that not only promote cultural recognition but also include a significant variation of skin tones, body shapes, haircuts, fashion styles, and even physical conditions in both Barbies and Kens.
With this in mind, one of the most impactful collections that called the public’s attention towards the inclusivity movement in the Barbie World was released in 2010 with a doll set that featured Kens with long hair, bald Barbies, gender neutral characters, dolls on wheelchairs, with prosthetic limbs, vitiligo, different hair colors and of course, skin tones. From then on, they proceeded to launch more campaigns that would embrace diversity in all aspects possible, like social impact (2015), mental health (2015), and body positivity (2016).
Barbie Sheroes: Launched in 2015, this campaign is intended to recognize women that throughout history have pushed social boundaries to the limit and have opened new opportunities for women nowadays.
Barbie Vlogger: Also launched in 2015, the brand expanded Barbie’s image to digital content posted on Youtube, turning the character into an animated influencer that could talk directly to her young audience about a wide range of common topics like mental health, social pressure, healthy habits, etc.
New Body Types: It was about time that Barbie became more real with her appearance, and finally, in 2016, this doll got to have three new body types – petite, curvy, and tall. This step represented a huge milestone for the brand and even got to have the front cover of the Time Magazine.