barbie inclusive
Fashion, Opinions

Barbie, Stapled The Most Inclusive and Diverse Doll Line In The World, A Closer Look at Barbie’s “Diverse” Legacy

Barbie received the Board of Directors Tribute at the CFDA Awards this past week–just in time for the doll’s 60th anniversary. The Award Ceremony, which is stapled as the “Oscar’s of Fashion” pays an annual tribute to trailblazers–honoring philanthropists, designers, artists and influencers. The Board of Directors Tribute historically has gone to Michelle Obama and Janelle Monae, so I was surprised to here Barbie’s name in this particular line-up. Lisa Mcknight Senior Vice President of Mattel– the company that produces and owns Barbie– accepted the award on Barbie’s behalf and recognized Barbie as “the most inclusive and diverse doll line in the world”.

Did this statistic play a role in the CFDA’s decision? Maybe. But one thing I’m certain is Barbie’s influence on young women during the mid to late 20th century contributed to this acknowledgment. She shifted the way young women saw their futures in a time— as Lisa Mcknight put it– “women couldn’t cash their own checks.” The Barbie brand predicted the elevation of women and has led the toy industry for decades. And while it is now the world’s most inclusive and diverse doll line, the doll does not inherently represent diversity and inclusion.

The positive philosophy of Barbie existed for thin white cisgender women for so long that it is difficult to see minorities as a part of the brand. Ruth Handler started Barbie in 1959, and it wasn’t until 1980 that a Black and Latina doll was placed in the market–even then the features and names were white. 2016 is when Barbie released several skin tones and textures to enhance minority representation and that was just three years ago–a move mostly motivated by declining sales.

Until this day when we say Barbie, we are speaking of the original Barbie. Barbie is blonde. Barbie is slim. Barbie is one doll. She is the face of the brand. The additional dolls that are Black, Latina, Asian, etc, are considered Barbie’s friends. The company–as most predominantly white industries are– is expanding its diversity representation, but they have to if they want to survive today’s market. I am not opposed to Barbie, but the brand does not get gold stars for finally getting it right. Barbie has played a huge role in American culture– a true feminist powerhouse– but let’s not confuse her legacy with one of diversity and inclusion.

If we’re being honest and really want to support diversity and inclusion, we can start by supporting businesses owned by the people who the industry is now “including.” Shoppe Black featured 13 Businesses that Make Black Dolls. The owners are black and are creating dolls with ranging black hair textures, skin tone, and clothing. There are dolls with vitiligo, plus size dolls and more. And as the market progresses, I’d love to see more plus size dolls, more dolls of all ethnicities, and dolls representing people with disabilities.

What are your thoughts is Barbie a brand of diversity and inclusion? Let us know in the comments.

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