Our Message To Mothers About Mattel’s New Diverse Barbie Collection

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We’ve got to hand it to Mattel with this one. After a series of epic fails, it is worth giving the world’s most popular doll manufacturer some credit where credit is due. Instead of continuing the losing streak which included a Sports Illustrated Cover, a Linkedin account, and a horrible cartoon about computer programming which played into some well-known workplace sexist dynamics, Barbie has gotten a bit of a female empowerment makeover.

The limited edition Sheroes collection featuring an Ava DuVernay Barbie was a major shift from their typical imagery and messaging. The inclusion of a young boy in their recent Moschino Barbie advertisement was a great way to point out that dolls shouldn’t just be for boys. And of course we can’t go past the ‘Imagine the Possibilities’ video showing how powerful it is when girls are given the opportunity to dream up a limitless future for themselves, career-wise.

A little while ago we shared artist Colleen Clark’s artist impressions of what Barbie would look like if she were more diverse. It seems the Mattel zeitgeist has been listening and watching, because they recently unveiled their new diverse collection of dolls under the name “Project Dawn” which is said to insinuate the dawn of a new era. This is good news!

The new collection features a curvy, tall and petite doll, and one with electric blue hair. Critics, fans and media platforms have been raving about this new collection. We can just imagine all the Project Dawn executives sitting in their version of the situation room, plotting and planning a mass media assault to prove they have changed. Well we are here to say we believe it, and we fully recognize Mattel’s efforts to project a more inclusive empowering image through their dolls.

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But this article is not about that, specifically. Nor are we here to point out any inherent or obvious flaws this new collection may have. This article in Redbook magazine was written by a mother of a daughter who claims this new collection distracts us from the real issue, which we’ll get to in a minute. This article on Quartz.com goes to the extent of claiming the Project Dawn dolls which actually do nothing to empower girls.

Wanna know what we think now that we have all had a few weeks to read the think-pieces, and gushing editorials form popular women’s platforms about this diverse collection? We think the dolls are a massive breakthrough moment for Mattel, but like Nicola Kraus writes for Redbook mag it does distract from the real issue.

What is the real issue? That at the end of the day, Barbie is just a doll, and while she can be credited or blamed for setting unrealistic body standards in the lives of young girls, her influence actually only goes so far. We believe mothers need to be setting the cultural standards and body image norms for their daughters. While barbie can subtly send messages about unattainable body proportions, as well as promote a lack of ambition as outlined by a study which found girls who play with a Mrs. Potato Head toy are more likely to feel empowered as opposed to playing with a Barbie, a mother’s influence holds much greater weight in a child’s life.

After all, she is a human being, Barbie is an inanimate plastic doll. Allow us to explain a little further. Among all the powerful campaigns Dove have created, there is one that stood out to us most. Their ‘Legacy’ video, featuring a handful of mothers and their daughters was very opening for one reason: every body insecurity the mothers expressed, their daughters did the same.

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The number one influence in a young girl’s life is often a mother, not a doll or a TV show or something else. When mothers continually express dissatisfaction about their bodies in front of their daughters, that becomes ingrained into a child’s mind. If a young plays with one of the new Project Dawn diverse Barbies, that’s all well and great, but she needs to have a strong motherly role model showing what a human version of empowerment and self-esteem looks like.

That’s just the body image aspect. As for the career issue (remember Barbie has had over 100 careers in her 57 years since inception) mothers also win this one. A major study published by Harvard University in 2015 found that working mothers have a profound effect on their children. A daughter who has a mom working outside the home is more likely to enjoy better careers, higher pay and enter into equal relationships, vs those who have stay-at-home mothers (this is not a slight toward SAHM, we are pointing out the greater effect of a working mom on a child, than a Barbie doll).

As far as we can tell, there was no mention of the great influence of Barbie in a young girl’s ability to imagine her future career or relationship. Yes, that ‘Imagine The Possibilities’ video was a breakthrough and was inspiring to watch. But the scenarios played out on screen had nothing to do with Barbie, and everything to do with the cultural and parental standards a child is raised with in order to envision his or her future.

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And that is the message we want to give our readers today. A curvy Barbie doll, much like Lego’s first mini figure in a wheelchair, can only go so far to ingrain in a child they they “belong” just as they are. Yes it is great to see a step forward in a doll that has perpetuated such a narrow ideal of beauty and womanhood for decades, but it’s time to turn our attention to role models who can have an actual influence in the lives of young girls.

We know we have published many pieces about the importance of Mattel to diversify the Barbie aesthetic, and even pointed out the responsibility they have to project health ideals onto the millions and millions of girls around the world who have made Barbie ridiculously popular even today (sales may have dropped recently, but Mattel still claims a Barbie doll is sold every three seconds, which would make the billion-dollar brand the world’s most popular doll.) But there is no assembled or styled pieces of plastic and cloth which can outdo the influence of a mother.

So to all the young girls who are going to grow up having the opportunity to play with a diverse set of Barbies, we implore you to have fun and look beyond just what you have in your hand. To all the mothers out there looking for a symbol or product that will give your daughters all the tools they need to succeed in life, look within! You are it!


 

 

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