Mattel has been trying to diversify their Barbie lines for many years now. This is especially true within body shapes and figures. More recently, Mattel has introduced their newest Barbie doll who has down syndrome.
“Barbie reflects the world girls see around them,” Mattel president and COO Richard Dickson said.
Barbie owners, Mattel, released a similar statement to this in 1997 with the release of “Share-a-Smile Becky.” Becky was a friend of Barbie’s who used a wheelchair. Becky was an absolute hit within the Barbie community. Over 6,000 dolls were sold within the first two weeks of her release. Disability advocates around the world praised Mattel for the inclusivity within their lines. However, the excitement of this release did not last long.
Becky’s wheelchair was incompatible with Barbie line’s Dreamhouse. The frame of the wheelchair did not fit through the front door or the elevator. Mattel responded to the concerns of consumers by discontinuing the doll. Ableism is so entrenched in our society that even toys buildings are inaccessible and often just not represented at all. This doll was also only represented as Caucasian, therefore no one within a different race was being represented.
After nearly 20 years, Mattel is taking another chance at being inclusive. This new doll with Down Syndrome is a part of Mattel Barbie Fashionistas line. This line of Barbie’s aims to fight the stigma around disabilities so little kids all around the world can feel represented and appreciated.
While “Share-a-Smile Becky” was not as successful as they initially thought, there were many other Barbies released in the Fashionistas line. Previous dolls in this line included a doll with hearing aids, one with a prosthetic leg, and a doll with a skin condition known as vitiligo.
For the most recent Barbie, Mattel partnered with the National Down Syndrome Society to develop the doll’s body shape, features, and accessories needed. They wanted to portray this as accurately as they could for the children playing with these dolls.
“This means so much for our community, who for the first time, can play with a Barbie doll that looks like them. This Barbie serves as a reminder that we should never underestimate the power of representation. It is a huge step forward for inclusion and a moment that we are celebrating,” Kandi Pickard, National Down Syndrome Society President and CEO said in an official statement.
Barbie has received a lot of criticism relating to their lack of representation in past years. For many years, all Barbie dolls had light skin colors and the same body type. Since 2016, Mattel helped shape Barbie into a more inclusive brand with more representation. In 2016, Barbie was reintroduced and this time they included four different body types and seven different skin tones. Additionally, they included 22 eye colors and 24 hair styles.
The evolution of Barbie Fashionistas came three years later. While there has been much improvement within the Barbie line, they still have a long way to go.