Art by Kris Harper
Mattel recently introduced new kinds of Barbie dolls, this time with more diverse body shapes, as well as different skin tones, eye colors and hair colors. The Jan. 28 announcement of a more diverse Barbie came shortly before Lego announced their first-ever figurine in a wheelchair, set to debut later this year.
The introduction of diverse versions of the classically buxom and waif-like figure of the traditional Barbie, as well as the new Lego figurines, has received praise from media critics and celebrities alike. The more realistic and diverse forms for these classic toys come at a time when “body positivity” and “diversity” have become increasingly prevalent phrases in our culture.
The new version of toys that have been enjoyed by children for decades offer a hopeful and empowering message to all individuals, particularly those who have often stood on the periphery of mainstream representation. The new Barbie and Lego figurines, however, are just the beginning to broadening our culture’s dialogue on diversity and should not be considered an end in themselves.
Dubbed “curvy” Barbie, the new Barbie figures are taking a stride in the right direction by representing more diverse body types. After a 2006 study by Helga Dittmar, Suzanne Ive and Emma Halliwell published in Developmental Psychology asserted that the Barbie franchise holds girls to unrealistic expectations of female beauty, it certainly is refreshing to see new models that embrace the diversity of the female figure and the diversity of the female herself. Other emerging toy brands like Lammily have successfully introduced dolls that champion diversity, according to the article, “A Barbie with curves is still all about looks” by Rebecca Haines published on Feb. 1, 2016 in The Washington Post.
The new Barbie and Lego figurines are not the end to the roads we need to navigate to achieve diversity and representation for all individuals in the mainstream media. So while we may “ooh” and “ahh” over Barbie’s new figure and Lego’s revolutionary strides, these feats should not just be viewed as novelties, but rather as legitimate steps toward a culture of greater diversity.
There is no ignoring the fact that we can fall into the trap of viewing these achievements superficially and buying into the fallacy of thinking “curvy” Barbie and the wheelchair Lego figurine are the defining moments of our culture. “Curvy” Barbie, while a step in the right direction, is still predicated on her physical appearance. Mattel and Lego are making great strides in diversity, but as a culture, we also need to recognize that there is more to diversity than just physical appearance. These toy companies have spearheaded the dialogue, but it is up to us to complete it. They are, after all, just plastic.
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