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Barbie gets real about body image

For most of my life I’ve had a problem with Barbie. When I was very young, Barbie’s straight, blonde hair was a representation of the characteristic I would never have. I spent most of my childhood trying desperately to get my dark, curly hair to do what Barbie’s did. When I hit my preteen years and developed into a short, scrawny nugget of wise-cracks and crooked teeth, my beef with Barbie transformed. I no longer wanted just Barbie’s hair. I desperately wanted her hair and her body. I saw my flat-chested body as something bad or shameful. As an adult and a feminist, I looked back at Barbie as a representation of the size-ist society in which we live. I saw Barbie as a problem because it taught girls that only one body type was attractive.

There have been efforts throughout the years to make girls’ toys more inclusive of all body types. The Bratz dolls portrayed a body type so cartoonish no girl could ever think to want it. But those fashion dolls only further exacerbated the problem. American Girl Dolls were great representations of what real girls look like but they’re far too expensive to be considered a good replacement for the staple that Barbie has become in modern American homes. Recently, a new doll that was shaped like a standard 13-year-old American girl with light skin and dark hair called Lammily started being produced. Lammily had the benefit of having a “realistic body type” but lacked the diversity that Barbie dolls offered.

As a woman who is slowly but surely getting closer to the day I get to have children, I’ve always been a little worried about Barbie. I worried that my future daughters would want Barbie dolls but, as a feminist, I would feel that they shouldn’t have that image of what is attractive in their minds. I worried that I would do the same thing my mother did when I asked for Bratz dolls as a young girl. I worried that I’d say no to my daughter getting a toy so iconic to American childhood. But now Barbie has a new line of dolls, The Fashionistas, and they are game changing.

The Fashionistas will be available this spring in many different shapes and sizes. According to the Barbie website, “the line includes 4 body types, 7 skin tones, 22 eye colors, 24 hairstyles, and countless on-trend fashions and accessories.” There are options of curvy, tall, petite, and original. There will be 7 curvy, 7 tall, and 7 petite dolls with varied hair colors, facial features, complexions and eye colors. Within the “original category,” Barbie will be producing 12 different dolls, 6 of which will portray women of ethnicities other than Caucasian. Barbie has officially expanded what we teach our children to see as beautiful. Granted, these four new body types don’t necessarily encompass all body types. But now, when parents buy their daughters Barbie dolls, they can get a doll that more accurately reflects who their daughter is and how she’s shaped.

The Fashionista Barbie dolls won’t fix the epidemic of body shaming and eating disorders that plague our nation and our society. But they are a sign of a move in the right direction. This year, Barbie is releasing new, diverse body types in their dolls. Next year, who knows, we might start to see a change in the people we see in media. With these new dolls will come a generation of women who are affirmed in their bodies instead of insecure because of the dolls’ influence in their childhood. With this change comes an expanded understanding of what is considered beautiful in our culture.

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