TORONTO – As a black woman raising her eldest daughter through the mid-’80s and ’90s, Samantha Kemp-Jackson found little variety among dolls when it came to different shapes, skin tones and abilities — especially with Barbies.
“It was, for the most part, the stereotypical Barbie with the blond hair and the disproportionate body proportions,” recalls the mother of four. “It always made me a bit uncomfortable because as a woman and as a parent I thought: ‘What is this teaching my daughter?’
“If she doesn’t conform to what this Barbie looks like, is that going to result in her having issues about herself and her body and not being beautiful? Because Barbie was touted as the ideal representation of beauty in a doll.”
With Mattel’s announcement Thursday that its iconic plastic plaything will now include tall, curvy and petite body types, Kemp-Jackson joins other Canadians applauding the move by the toy manufacturer to better reflect diversity among females.
The new additions to the Barbie Fashionista doll range include seven skin tones, 22 eye colours and 24 hairstyles.
The shift comes after years of criticism of Barbie for reinforcing unrealistic body proportions and beauty ideals for girls.
“I’m actually quite happy to hear that things are changing now,” said Kemp-Jackson, a parenting writer who blogs at Multiple Mayhem Mamma. “As a woman of colour who grew up in the 1970s, it was even worse. I was a kid in the ’70s and there was no doll that looked like me.
“The subconscious message that you’re getting is that you’re not beautiful, you’re not worthy of representation…. That’s not to detract from the beauty of all types of people: blond, redhead, black, Asian. But all of those different representations should be shown in society.”
Michael Bach, CEO of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, said he’s excited at the prospect of giving a doll to his 2 1/2-year-old biracial niece who can “see herself in it.” The fact that it’s Barbie makes it all the more noteworthy given the doll’s longevity and status, he added.
“Barbie is an icon. She’s been around for 55 years,” he said. “This has incredible impact because it is Barbie.
“There’s been lots of lines of toys over the years — certainly in the past 20 years — that have attempted to reflect the face of a more broad group of diversity, specifically race, if we’re being honest. And that’s great — but it’s Barbie.
“The reality is that this isn’t just about the young African-American girl that is going to go into Toys ‘R’ Us and scream her head off because she can get a black Barbie now. It’s about every child of every race who … wants to have a Barbie that looks differently.”
Akram Sharkawy, brand communications marketing manager at Mattel, said the new dolls will be available at stores in Canada at the end of February. The dolls can be viewed and ordered online at shop.mattel.com.
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