Nickolay Lamm’s Barbie sans makeup
Lamm’s average-proportion Barbie
The Body Shop’s infamous plus-size “Ruby”
So it’s not surprising that, in 2016, Barbie has ended up absorbing some of the anti-Barbie critique and, during an age of trendy pop feminism, changed her body type accordingly. This week, with a Time cover story, Mattel unrolled three more Barbie body sizes: curvy, tall, and petite. The company is out to win over “millennial moms” with a message of diversity and empowerment. Essentially: they want to keep selling dolls. And it isn’t the only high-profile progressive move Mattel has made recently — it comes on the heels of more career-oriented and diverse Barbies, like this Ava DuVernay doll.
Yet in the very same issue of Time, feminist Jill Filipovic warns about the gender segregation of toys in general, noting that new Barbie does not break the trend. “When girls are trapped in the pink box — or minimized in dialogue — their interests are reined in, their physical and psychological development stymied. Yet girls are fed a steady diet of princesses, makeup and homemaking,” she writes.
When Time interviewed several moms about the change to Barbie, the result was exactly as one would expect: lukewarm but positive; girls, meanwhile, joked about curvy Barbie being fat and stared at her body, although they did like the one with blue hair who looked like Katy Perry (showing how far images of pop stars have permeated). Curvy barbie isn’t even that curvy, it must be said; she is a small person with muscular limbs and healthy hips.
Still, these dolls have made me think about my own early-adolescent body image. I had been a skinny-limbed child with straight hair, and when I hit 12 I stopped growing, gained a new Jewfro, hit puberty early, and morphed almost overnight into someone who (at least at the time) looked a lot like Curvy Barbie does now, except at the height of Petite Barbie. It was somewhat traumatic, and I wonder if I would have been more accepting of this sudden change if one of the many, many dolls I played with looked more like I did, if it became a shape I was accustomed to and it had absorbed into my subconscious earlier.
A doll wouldn’t have protected me from the worst parts of growing from girl into woman in a patriarchy, but it might have taken some of the edge off of my shock. New Barbie is both a cosmetic change and a good one, reflective of the ways feminism in 2016 is being repackaged and sold back to consumers — with positive results that nonetheless remain on the superficial, plastic surface of society.