Barbie’s new bodies are a great step in the right direction

Barbie has being going through an extended rough patch. In only two years – between 2012 and 2014 – sales of the iconic doll nosedived by 20%. Between “Frozen,” LEGO Friends, and Mattel”s other line of Monster High dolls, Barbie had begun to show her age. If kids wanted to play with a blonde Nordic princess, they had Elsa and her magic powers. If they wanted diversity, Monster High was pumping out entirely new lines of dolls two to three times a year. Suddenly the nearly unattainable perfection of Barbie wasn”t the only game in town. With new options, consumers fled.

Now Barbie is finally doing something about it. Two years in development, “Project Dawn” aims to rebuild Barbie from the ground up for a whole new generation. And you know what? It”s a good start.

We”re living in a time of body acceptance movements that encourage girls to love themselves regardless of size of skin color. Hairstyles that once would have been contained to punk scene teenagers are now office appropriate. In this week”s TIME cover story, Mattel unveiled their new direction. Given free reign, the design team was asked what they would do if they could design Barbie today. The results are three new body types and a slew of skin tones and hair options.

The project is rolling out in stages. The wider array of ethnicities and hair styles are already in stores. But the body types are posing a different challenge. A logistical headache for retailers, Mattel will sell the dolls exclusively on their website – Mattel.com – while they finalize deals to get more shelf space for the line.

Controversy is inevitable to follow on both sides of the body image debate. Barbie has been a lightning rod for society”s feelings about body image and women since her debut. But to me, one part of the TIME article sticks out as showing how necessary it is for kids to be exposed to human diversity when they play.

“We see it a lot. The adult leaves the room and they undress the curvy Barbie and snicker a little bit,” says Tania Missad, who runs the research team for Mattel”s girls portfolio. “For me, it”s these moments where it just really sets in how important it is we do this. Over time I would love it if a girl wouldn”t snicker and just think of it as another beautiful doll.”
It”s a sign that even kids as young as 6 or 7 are already conditioned for a particular silhouette in their dolls, and it highlights Mattel”s challenge.

It remains to be seen if Mattel”s course correction is too little, too late. But for now, I for one am happy to see the most iconic doll in the world embrace the idea that beauty comes in many forms.