Barbie gets a makeover with new body shapes and skin tones

Manufacturer Mattel has announced a major makeover, with three new body types to come onto the market – petite, tall and curvy. The traditional Barbie body, with its tiny waist, big bust and outsize head, will remain in the line up, but the wider roster of Barbies will also include seven skin tones, 22 eye colours and 24 hairstyles.

By adding the new body types, Mattel is aiming to change the conversation around an iconic product facing falling annual sales. It also aims to  bring some diversity to the dolls at a time when the US’ nonwhite population is growing, as plus-size clothing brands proliferate, and when parents are increasingly conscious of gender-based stereotypes.

Mattel executives have described the moves as “an act of progressivism”, an acknowledgment that they think it is simply the right thing to do to have their doll collection better reflect real women.

Robert Best, senior director of product design said: “This is radical. Because we’re saying there isn’t this narrow standard of what a beautiful body looks like.”

The move by Mattel has received a mixed reaction with some commentators saying it’s a positive step forward for the brand, and others saying the Barbie makeover doesn’t go far enough.

The WGSN Womenswear team Robbie Sinclair and Laura Yiannakou have been discussing the topic at length. They believe “it’s definitely a step in the right direction, introducing different sizes and skin tones.
“However, from a design perspective we think that the clothes could be more flattering and fun.
Both in the fictional world of curvy Barbie and the real world of plus-size women, the problem they face is that brands make a big point of announcing their ‘curvy or plus-size collections’ but then they don’t have a consistent in-store offering season after season. So there is no real commitment to provide for this consumer. We worry that like some headline grabbing fashion campaigns, this is more about good PR and a push to increase falling sales, than it is about the youth consumer, play and a commitment to diversity”, says the team.

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