Barbie dolls embrace diversity in bid to win back...
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Jan 30, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Barbie dolls embrace diversity in bid to win back fans

Struggling to compete with other toys, Mattel’s famous doll will now be available in three new body types and seven skin tones



Mattel Inc. will start offering the iconic plastic doll in three new body types — tall, curvy and petite — as well as seven skin tones, 22 eye colours and 24 hairstyles.

The move comes after years of criticism of the line for being unrepresentative of real women’s bodies and the diversity of the little girls, and sometimes boys, who play with them.

The brand is also struggling to remain competitive in a market full of higher tech toys, as well as dolls that already embrace a more realistic physique, such as the American Girl dolls (also owned by Mattel).

Sales for Barbie, Mattel’s biggest brand, fell 14 per cent in the most recently reported quarter.

“We are excited to literally be changing the face of the brand — these new dolls represent a line that is more reflective of the world girls see around them — the variety in body type, skin tones and style allows girls to find a doll that speaks to them,” said Evelyn Mazzocco, senior vice-president and global general manager for Barbie, in a press release.

Sara Pacella, the mom of 4-year-old twins and a Toronto parenting blogger, called the new line a “step in the right direction.”

“I think they need to do that to stay competitive,” she said.

“This is something that I’m surprised they didn’t do a long ago, not even just because it’s socially responsible but because it makes sense from a business perspective,” she added.

Pacella hopes the concept can be a long-term part of Barbie’s brand, “as opposed to, look, we’re doing this and we’re going to run this campaign for a year and it’s going to disappear again.”

You can still brush her hair and undress her everywhere, and the original Barbie, with her pin-thin legs and shiny blond locks, will still be available.

Lucie Follett, co-founder and creative director of Arklu, a British company that makes an alternative to Barbie, called Lottie, who wears sneakers and goes fossil gathering, said the timing of Barbie’s new look is interesting.

“You’ve got the whole backdrop of them having lost these really lucrative licences and seeing the Barbie sales go into free fall,” she said over the phone from Nuremberg toy fair in Germany.

In the fall of 2014, Mattel lost the doll licence for Disney’s Frozen and Princess brands.

The company is recognizing the value of listening to what parents want, Follett added.

“But I would also argue that it’s a very, very small step on their part,” she said.

“The rest of the range isn’t that representative and I think there’s an awful lot of marketing gloss that’s involved.”

Barbie is not the only doll that’s been criticized for being unrealistic.

Some parents have even taken matters into their own hands, giving crafty “make-unders” to dolls such as Bratz, in response to fears that they are hypersexualized.

Jennifer Ierullo, a 28-year-old Scarborough Barbie collector, welcomes the addition of a curvier Barbie.

Growing up in the ’90s, she never recognized herself in the stick-thin dolls she played with, and as a plus-sized woman she’s delighted to finally see a fuller-figured figurine.

She plans to add one of the new Barbies to her own shelf, alongside Cher and characters from The Wizard of Oz.

Ierullo said she’s also always felt her dolls weren’t reflective of what she would see at school or on the streets in the diverse GTA.

“You’re not going to get on a bus and have a bus full of white people with blond hair,” she said with a laugh.

“Hopefully this will stick and kids will get the chance to experience other types of people.”

Toronto Star

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