When Barbie first made its appearance in toy stores, the dolls’ industry mainly consisted of babies that children could rock and cradle. In developing a doll with adult features, Mattel undoubtedly revolutionized the industry for girls. Moreover, as the Economist defends, from her early days as a teenage fashion model, Barbie has appeared as an astronaut, surgeon, Olympic athlete, downhill skier, aerobics instructor, TV news reporter, vet, rock star, doctor, army officer, air force pilot, summit diplomat, rap musician, presidential candidate (party undefined), baseball player, scuba diver, lifeguard, firefighter, engineer, dentist, and many more – thus having a significant impact on social values by conveying characteristics of female independence.
However, over the years, Mattel has seen its fair share of backlash regarding the best seller – the earliest being those about Barbie always being Caucasian. Multiculturalism was one of the earliest reforms that the toy giants incorporated within their system. But one issue that the company kept ignoring was the fact that Barbie sported an unrealistic body – one that was garnering equally unrealistic body standards among its young fans.
According to the “Get Real Barbie” fact sheet created by the South Shore Eating Disorders Collaborative (SSEDC), “if Barbie were an actual women, she would be 5’9” tall, have a 39” bust, an 18” waist, 33” hips and a size 3 shoe. At 5’9” tall and weighing 110 lbs, Barbie would have a BMI of 16.24 and fit the weight criteria for anorexia. She likely would not menstruate. If Barbie was a real woman, she’d have to walk on all fours due to her proportions.”
Mattel had always somehow ignored these claims being thrown at them for 5 decades, and up until recently, they could probably even comfortably afford to. But, 2014 saw a major drop in sales for Barbie. Why?
While Barbie’s lead designer was busy defending Barbie’s crazy proportions based on notions that the dolls were never designed to be realistic, but “for girls to easily dress and undress”, Nickolay Lamm, founder of Lammily, the first ever realistically proportioned doll, took matters into his hands.
“What if Fashion Dolls Were Simply Made Using Standard Human Body Proportions?” – the question that spurred Lamm to develop a digital prototype of a doll based on the proportions of an average 19 year old American woman using Photoshop and 3D-printing. The prototype received enough feedback that he ultimately organized a crowdfunding campaign to begin production of the Lammily dolls.
On November 19, 2014 the Lammily line of dolls went on sale and shipping to all backers began as well. Lammily Marks, a set of reusable sticker accessories for fashion dolls, allowing them to have stretch marks, cellulite, moles, etc. had also been released at the same time.
A video of second graders reacting to Lammily vs. Barbie demonstrated how even children would prefer more realistic versions of the popular dolls. The initiative went viral with organizations all over the world taking up the flag, and Barbie, as a brand, took a major hit.
In 2016, Mattel finally announced that Barbie was becoming a real woman. The project for the dramatic reinvention of Barbie was kept top secret and referred to simply as “Project Dawn” by the company. The new dolls will also boast 24 new hairstyles, seven different skin tones, and three body types.
The reform was instigated by a gross fall in profits in 2014 and 2015, but regardless, it’s a commendable step in the right direction by Mattel.