More than a toy: Barbie proving its ‘Mattel’ again & again

With a film expected soon and avatars of inspiring personalities, Barbie is in the news

More than a toy: Barbie proving its ‘Mattel’ again & again
Over the years, Barbie has become a brand name associated with inclusivity.

Barbie might be all over social media currently because of the much-hyped Barbie film starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, which is set to release next year in July. Makers of the doll, Mattel, believe that the doll is a “cultural and pop icon”. But when she first appeared in the market in 1959 wearing a swimsuit and high heels, the doll faced criticism for being a feminine stereotype, yet remained one of the company’s most popular toys.

Over the years, Barbie has become a brand name associated with inclusivity. The brand has eventually rolled out a couple of diverse and inclusive toys in various avatars, and these have broken many gender stereotypes. In the latest Barbie’s Inspiring Women Series, the dolls pay tribute to incredible heroines of their time, courageous women who took risks, changed rules, and paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever before. This time, it’s primatologist Dr Jane Goodall who gets a doll in her likeness. The series and this particular doll recognises decades of dedication, ground-breaking research, and heroic achievements of Goodall as a conservationist, animal behaviour expert, and activist, who is also the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace. The collectible doll is made from recycled plastic, wears field attire and comes equipped with a pair of binoculars and a notebook. She is joined by chimpanzee David Greybeard.

In other additions this year, the doll is created with a focus on disability representation and diversity inclusion. This includes a Barbie with a behind-the-ear hearing aid and a Barbie with a prosthetic leg, plus a Ken doll with vitiligo, a condition where the skin loses pigmentation and appears blotchy. Another added feature is the body type, hair texture and a range of skin tones so that the next generation and children can see diversity around the world. Mattel also represents inspiring women in Barbie dolls who have been modelled after tennis star Naomi Osaka, renowned poet Maya Angelou, and Covid-19 vaccine developer Sarah Gilbert.

Besides showing over 200 careers, this year the makers created a Barbie Eco-Leadership Team (2022 career of the year four doll set) for kids to imagine everything they can become. This set of four career dolls is made from recycled plastic (excluding the head and hair), each one wears clothing made from recycled fabric, and all are certified carbon-neutral products. Each doll represents a unique eco-leadership career and comes with related clothing and accessories, conservation scientist with binoculars and a notebook; renewable energy engineer with hard hat, safety vest, solar panel, and tablet; chief sustainability officer with laptop and cell phone; environmental advocate with camera and sign-all these highlight career fields in which women are underrepresented.

Ever since its inception by American businesswoman Ruth Handler back in 1959, the cultural and controversial aspects have been the mainstream of the toy that has not just been an inspiration to many young girls but also been an icon of sorts. The first Barbie doll wore a black and white zebra striped swimsuit and signature topknot ponytail, and was available as either a blonde or brunette. The first ones were manufactured in Japan, with their clothes hand-stitched by Japanese home workers. It is estimated that around 350,000 Barbie dolls were sold during the first year of production.

For the Women’s History Month this year, a south Asian-American Barbie was based on Deepica Mutyala, the founder and CEO of makeup brand Live Tinted, which is an ethnically diverse Barbie, modelled after several notable businesswomen.

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