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Barbie turns 65 in a world of vast doll diversity

Barbie turns 65 in a world of vast doll diversity

Wednesday, March 06, 2024, 13:29 GMT+7
Barbie turns 65 in a world of vast doll diversity
Barbie dolls are on display for sale in the Huber & Kosak antiquarian store in Vienna, Austria August 2, 2023. Photo: Reuters

LOS ANGELES - At 65 years of age, Barbie shows no signs of retiring from her 250 different jobs as a plastic and fantastic doll whose small feet have left a big cultural mark on the human world.

The original Mattel Barbie with her iconic blonde hair, black and white bathing suit and eyes angled to the side, was inspired by creator Ruth Handler’s daughter, Barbara, in 1959.

However, in 2024, as Barbie celebrates her 65th anniversary, the dolls are produced in a diversity of colors, hair textures, body shapes and more.

“Barbie used to be a more singular reflection of beauty and more one-dimensional. Today, there are many Barbies, and we've got multiple views of the brand,” Executive Vice President and Global Head of Barbie & Dolls, Lisa McKnight, told Reuters at the Mattel Design Center in Los Angeles.

Barbies come in 35 skin tones, 97 hairstyles and nine body types, including dolls with wheelchairs, Down Syndrome, vitiligo and plus-sizes as well as gender neutral dolls.

The doll has also become the fashion icon recently inspiring Barbiecore and helping many renowned hair stylists and clothing designers, like Karl Lagerfeld, get their start.

Adding to the brand’s evolution, the commercial success of the 2023 8-time Oscar-nominated “Barbie” movie directed by Greta Gerwig, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling added a new emotional depth to the doll.

However, these gains didn't come overnight.

"I'm so grateful I didn't grow up with Barbie," women's rights activist Gloria Steinem said in the 2018 Barbie documentary on Hulu "Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie."

"Barbie was everything we didn't want to be, and were being told to be," she added, referring to her work as a second-wave feminist advocating for equality in the 60s and 70s.

To this day, the doll is still associated by some with unrealistic body proportions, gender roles and Eurocentric beauty standards.

While considering these concerns, Mattel keeps adding multifaceted dolls to be pretty in pink.

The brand is open to different voices that go beyond that of its designers.

"What's most important for us is that we take on board consultation from all kinds of communities when we're designing,” said Kim Culmone, Mattel's vice president of Barbie Design.

While expanding, however, some things remain true for the toy brand, including hand-painting Barbies and using the same sewing machines that have been around since 1959.

Whether it is hand-sculpting new dolls or operating advanced 3D-printers, the brand is open to change.

The 65th anniversary dolls created by Filipino lead designer for Barbie Signature, Carlyle Nuera, are a reimagining of the original Barbie’s bathing suit as a black and white gown accompanied by white cat-eye sunglasses.

Rather than just the classic white doll with blonde hair, there's also a Black doll with braids and laid edges, a popular style for Black women that includes soft and sleeked baby hairs.

"If we continued to do the same thing that we've done before, over and over again, Barbie would not be the success that she is today," Culmone said.



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