Disabled Barbie in a Barbie world? Think again.
“Come on Barbie let’s go Barbie” — a song that is known across the globe.
Barbie is better known than almost anything in the world with a whopping 99% brand awareness.
Recently I watched Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie on Hulu, which is a documentary about Mattel launching the first ever Barbies with different body types making them more diverse. I decided to watch this because of all the current hype in the disability community surrounding the launch of the new “inclusive” Barbies that feature Barbie in a wheelchair & a Barbie with a prosthetic leg. While I was excited that arguably the most well known brand is adding disability representation to their products that are coveted by millions, there was something in the back of my head that had a slight uncertainty about this launch. When I watched Tiny Shoulders, my uncertainty was confirmed.
After watching I crunched both my eyebrows together with a “what the hell” look on my face. Everyone on the Barbie team seemed a bit pretentious about the power they have on the world. I guess, rightfully so. Barbie is a global icon.
You can draw your own conclusions if you decide to watch it, but to me, it seems the only reason that Mattel started launching Barbies with more ethnic and body type diversity is because their sales were in the global shitter.
They openly discuss this in the documentary along with how the developed the “curvy” Barbie. For women and girls across the world, having a “thigh gap” is something that has turned into a unrealistic, yet drastically important thing to have. Curvy Barbie is supposed to fight against that unrealistic beauty standard although it still needed a gap for the legs to be functional.
These Barbie’s were launched in 2016, so disabled Barbie did not appear in the documentary, because those were just launched three months ago, in February.
Here’s why I’m not excited about Mattel’s efforts to represent disability and body positivity in Barbie.
Despite these too little too late efforts made by Mattel, who have had 60 years to make Barbie represent everyone, knowing the effect their brand has on the world, the ideals of Barbie have not changed.
When I decided to launch my NOT Barbie collection, I took a poll. I asked my followers and Facebook friends what the first thing they think of when they hear “Barbie.” Maybe Mattel has succeeded in changing society’s attitudes towards the Barbie we all know: blonde, big bust, small waste Barbie that came with a book about dieting that said “don’t eat” with a scale preset at 110 lbs.
The most common answer that I got on the poll was blonde along with pink & skinny. Other submissions I got were the song, “I’m a Barbie girl in a Barbie world,” plastic, skinny, fake, and a doll with unrealistic body expectations.
This reaffirmed my thought that this iconic doll needs to be retired.
Barbie will always carry the same unrealistic beauty standard. Why? Because Barbie decided to add more representation to Barbie a little too damn late. The image of Barbie will always remain the same, and my poll proves that on a very small scale.
Even if you do think that Barbie is making an impact by adding curvy and disabled Barbie — where is trans Barbie / Ken, where is bipap Barbie, where is trach Barbie, where is disabled trans Barbie, where is electric wheelchair Barbie?
Let’s also not forget about disabled Barbie back in the 90’s when Mattel launched Share-A-Smile-Becky who was Barbie’s special friend, who I guess smiles a lot. That’s right, disabled Barbie wasn’t actually Barbie, she was Barbie’s friend. Share-A-Smile Becky is transcending the epitome of the disability stigma that disability exists to make people “smile” or feel good. Inspiration porn much, Mattel? Let’s also not forget that Becky’s wheelchair could not fit in the Barbie Dream House elevator — making the house inaccessible. Mattel received backlash about this. Instead of fixing the accessibility issue, they decided to discontinue Becky. This is the society we live in, thinking the disability is the issue, not accessibility — thank you Mattel, for further perpetuating that crap ideal.
I am not Barbie. You are not Barbie. We are all NOT Barbie. I am Alex — the curvy, protruded rib, crooked bodied, and disabled body positive baddie that fights against unrealistic body expectations.
Who are you?
I hope the answer is NOT Barbie.