Is Barbie a New Symbol of Diversity?

Barbie is back in style. And this fall, the iconic Barbie doll has re-emerged as a new—and surprising—champion of diversity.

Since 1959, over a billion Barbies have been sold worldwide. In fact, one is supposedly sold every three seconds. But despite its global notoriety, the doll is also notorious in discussions of diversity and body image.

Barbie has added more than 150 careers to her résumé, from astronaut to veterinarian; inspiring young girls to aspire to anything. But in a diverse and image-conscious world, a thin-framed and caucasian Barbie in no way represents all girls.

In 2016, Barbie’s maker, Mattel Inc, announced that the classic doll would come in four body types: original, petite, curvy, and tall. The new line would also feature seven skin tones, 22 eye colours, and 24 hairstyles.

With every new face, the Barbie brand is not only beginning to represent a greater push for diversity, and a healthier body image for young girls—they are also providing representation to more of the girls who grow up with Barbie as a role model.

As the brand takes steps towards a more diverse lineup of dolls, Barbie is increasingly telling girls that anyone can be anything.

As the year comes to a close, Barbie is pushing forward with even more diversity. On Monday, Mattel unveiled the newest Barbie based on curvaceous model Ashley Graham. The doll says goodbye to thigh-gaps, and also features rounder hips. With the new doll, Graham and Mattel are helping to deliver the message that beauty and brains can come in all shapes and sizes.

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The new Barbie, modelled after Ashley Graham, represents a fuller figure. Graham insisted that the doll’s thighs touch. *Image: @theashleygraham/Instagram

This Halloween, Beyoncé and her husband Jay-Z, along with baby Blue, ignited the internet with “Black Barbie”-inspired costumes. In a bodysuit and pink Gucci coat, Beyoncé packaged herself up as “Black Barbie,” with Jay-Z as Barbie’s companion Ken.

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Beyoncé and Jay-Z as “Black Barbie and Ken” on Halloween 2016. *Image: @beyonce/Instagram

A month later, and only hours after the release of Graham’s body-positive Barbie, Nicki Minaj came out with her remix of Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles,” dubbed “Black Barbies.” Last year, the rapper was one of many celebrities to congratulate Zendaya on the Barbie doll created in her likeness. The doll was manufactured after Zendaya’s look at the 2015 Oscars, complete with dreadlocks. The decision to feature locs on the doll marked an important moment in diversifying the definition of beauty. Minaj commented that the doll was empowering for girls who can identify with this representation of Barbie.

It is clear that the “classic” image of Barbie is beginning to transform as a pop culture symbol, representing more women and girls. What do you think of Barbie as a model of diversity?

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