Since Barbie was created by Mattel in 1959, the doll has been a doctor, a vet and a computer engineer. Most of the time she’s been blonde, white and thin, yet other times, she’s been black, curvy or proud of her freckles. It has taken time, but the doll has slowly become more representative of the world around her, yet she usually still boasts unrealistic body proportions and never ages.
Now, Mattel is introducing a more inclusive line of Barbies, including one that that uses a wheelchair and another one with a prosthetic leg. The company announced the two new additions to its Fashionista line on 11 February, saying it hopes to expand the definition of what is deemed beautiful. In 2016, the collection was expanded to include dolls with four different body types — original, tall, curvy and petite — as well as seven skin tones, 22 eye colors and 24 hairstyles.
“As a brand, we can elevate the conversation around physical disabilities by including them into our fashion doll line to further showcase a multi-dimensional view of beauty and fashion,” the company said in a statement.
Kim Culmone, Mattel’s vice president of Barbie Design, said the latest additions had resulted from consumer demand. "We’re going to be introducing a doll in a wheelchair and a doll representing physical disabilities. She has a prosthetic limb," Culmone told Teen Vogue.
Mattel will also introduce additional body sizes, including a Barbie with a smaller bust and less-defined waist. The company says a wheelchair or a doll in a wheelchair was one of the items that customers had requested through the consumer hotline. Mattel has added more than 100 new variations of the doll over the past few years in order to enhance its diversity.
Culmone also stated that the company had worked with a team at UCLA and with 12-year-old Jordan Reeves, who has a prosthetic arm, to ensure the dolls were as realistic as possible. Reeves had an impact on the design process, suggesting that Barbie’s prosthetic limb should be removable. For the company it was an eye-opening moment.
"That’s not necessarily something we would have realized how important it would be to someone living with this experience," she said. Mattel’s announcement has been praised on social media.
"I think the wheelchair Barbie is awesome! This will help remove the stigma behind disability in my opinion," one follower wrote on Mattel's Instagram post, while another added, "A true example of love and diversity!! You are a inspiration for boys and girls to overcome any obstacle... BRAVO."