If I had been a more self aware seven year old child, I would have wanted to work for Mattel’s Barbie division. – Me
Ironically, I actually had this scheduled to go up Wednesday, but two days ago, Mattel announced new Barbie doll molds. Barbie now comes in curvy, tall and petite.
Barbie was actually the toy I played the most with as a child. I would build her houses with Legos and Lincoln Logs. I liked to change her clothes. I had a ton of accessories from both Barbie brand and knock off toy brands that she could use. Barbie even had a perfume bottle set that was pretty prized and fought over when my friends came to play. I wasn’t extremely creative with her story lines, I cared a lot more about her clothes and what fashion packs I could get (or at least stare longingly at in the toy aisle.) I remember that as a kid, I loved green and Barbie just didn’t have enough green in their options. So, I wrote them a letter asking for more green. They sent me a standard form rejection letter in response. Way to crush a child’s dreams, Mattel.
Barbie and the Crayola Fashion Designer set (that I used through high school) were the two driving reasons why when I couldn’t figure out how to get into Video Game design (thank you Myst behind the scenes videos), that I rummaged through my hobbies and dug into my ACT employment test and decided to go to school for Fashion Design. Architecture seemed too math heavy. Writing too risky. (I should have gone for writing. Sigh.)
Now, Barbie in particular has had her fair share of bad marketing and mothers accusing them of creating bad body image in girls. Overall, Mattel has always stuck with the idea that the Barbie Brand is positive because even back when women didn’t have careers outside the home (or at least not many of them did), Barbie promoted to girls that they could dream to be anything whether it was a Doctor, a Veterinarian, an Astronaut, a lawyer and I seem to remember Barbies that went to the Olympics. But due to the recent and not so recent push back about ‘natural’ bodies and ‘body positivity’ Mattel has finally gotten on board (or at least been pushed by falling sales numbers in the Barbie division) to create different body types.
There have been at least a couple of dolls that tried to promote a more body positive image in a fashion doll. The biggest that I know about is Lammily. Most of Lammily’s early marketing was about not being Barbie and how the doll was created on the proportions of the ‘average’ teenager. And that’s what Lammily looks like, average. She’s not ‘warm’ or ‘inviting’ like the creator wants you to think. She’s actually, really pretty boring. Also, her clothes are boring and they don’t fit and she doesn’t have any shape to make them aesthetically pleasing. See, the creator of Lammily and most the people who cry about body positivity and having ‘natural proportions’ miss the point of a fashion doll entirely. They seem to think that Mattel and fashion designers and those in the fashion industry don’t know that Barbie’s proportions are wrong and she’s too tall and too thin and has too small of a waist and her bust is too big.
We do. In fact, I think I’ve sat through at least two classes on this at both universities I attended, one even had a homemade model of what Barbie would look like if she was human sized. It was a bit scary. (Both the proportions and the execution of the model.)
The thing is, we don’t care.
First and for most, fashion is a business. Fashion dolls are a business. Fashion itself is around a three trillion dollar global industry. Fashion is about branding. It’s about marketing and it’s about trend forecasting. In fashion, we know what you’re going to do before you do.
Fashion execs and marketers shamelessly use psychology in their advertisements to get the populace to buy their products. We know it’s not real. We know it’s fake. We know that without photoshop that no one can achieve the proportions of the girls in the magazine ads. We know that catwalk models are 2% of the population in the world, which by the way is the same percent as people who can wear that bright sickly yellow that the human eye sees first! We make ourselves immune to it. We accept that it is fantasy.
The fashion industry and fashion dolls sell a fantasy. That’s how they make their living. No matter how much people scream about the models looking anorexic. (They might possibly be or they might naturally just be that skinny.) Or that Barbie if she was human height wouldn’t be able to walk because her bust is too big and she’s be over six foot eight and she lacks internal organs, if it is going to continue to make the fashion industry and the fashion doll industry money. It’s not going to change anything.
Now, I don’t really think that Barbie’s lack of natural proportions has been the reason her sales numbers have been falling. My recent perusal of Mattel’s shopping site left me bitterly disappointed on how boring and normal Barbie looked, even though the clothes fit. They just didn’t feel high fashion or even outrageous fashion. (My favorite outfit included a hot pink denim jacket. Oh, the eighties.) There wasn’t any fantasy. The fantasy that Monster High & Ever After High and things like Disney’s Fairies or the Frozen dolls have. A fantasy that Lammily never had to begin with.
I don’t know if these new Barbie dolls are going to change that. It might take quite a bit more than trying to embrace different body types to bring the magic and the fantasy back to Barbie.