Way to go, Mattel!
Barbie dolls with wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs.
Now six decades old, Barbie is a lot different than she used to be. That is, there's no one way Barbie looks now. A far cry from the disproportionate blonde, white woman she started off as, Barbie today is much more representative of the young people who play with her. She's still white and blonde, yes, but thanks to Mattel's latest addition to its Barbie Fashionista line, she's also black, brunette, skinny, curvy — and, now, in a wheelchair.
THERE’S NOW A BARBIE IN A WHEELCHAIR— julienne @ forest temple🌿 (@summersnoqueen) June 27, 2019
i can’t even begin to express how happy i am that more and more young girls are growing up seeing themselves in Barbie pic.twitter.com/XL2PEetu6G
Mattel announced new additions to the Fashionista line on February 11, adding Barbies with braided hair textures, new body types, and disabilities. Barbie will now have a wheelchair, and another doll will have a removable prosthetic leg. While the line has added more than 100 new looks over the past few years to make its stock increasingly diverse — like the young people who play with Barbies — the latest additions are a direct response to what Barbie fans want.
"We’re going to be introducing a doll in a wheelchair and a doll representing physical disabilities. She has a prosthetic limb," Kim Culmone, Mattel's vice president of Barbie Design, told Teen Vogue. "[There will be] additional body sizes — a Barbie with a smaller bust and less-defined waist. A wheelchair or doll in a wheelchair was one of the most requested items through our consumer ... hotline. It's important to us to listen to our consumers."
In order to properly represent disabled people, Mattel worked with them to create Barbie's wheelchair — which any of the Barbies in the "Made to Move" collection will fit in — and the Barbie with a prosthetic limb. In addition to working with a team at UCLA to create the wheelchair, Mattel worked with 12-year-old Jordan Reeves, who has a prosthetic arm. According to Culmone, Jordan helped the design team with details about prosthetic limbs, like asking that the prosthetic be removable to be more realistic.
"That was one of our first big ahas," Culmone said of Jordan's request that the prosthetic be removable. "That’s not necessarily something we would have realized how important it would be to someone living with this experience."
For people with certain types of disabilities, seeing Barbies who look like them can be a huge deal. Many studies have shown that how a doll looks can influence the young person playing with it (studies on how dolls with disabilities impact disabled young people is limited, however, because there isn't an abundance of disability representation in toys). And the doll lines like American Girl that do have disabled dolls are cherished by consumers. As it is for anyone, it's affirming and validating to see yourself represented in the media, something journalist Rebecca Atkinson, who started the #ToyLikeMe campaign to make toys more disability-inclusive, previously explained.
They had a barbie in a wheelchair when I was a kid too, years ago. I'm super glad they have another barbie in a wheelchair, and she's black to boot. Becky was my favorite to play with and this brings back nice memories. I bet this new doll will be someone's favorite too! pic.twitter.com/HTgaOh2pDh— wade ☾ angry ace gay (@littlespoonthor) June 28, 2019
There isn’t merely a Barbie in a wheelchair.— Crutches THEE Spice ♿️ (@Imani_Barbarin) June 28, 2019
THERE IS A BLACK BARBIE IN A WHEELCHAIR.
I REPEAT, SIS IS BLACK!!!! 💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾 https://t.co/I9FcGdG1UV
"When I was growing up, I never saw a doll like me. What does that say to deaf and disabled children?" she said to The Limping Chicken. "That they aren’t worth it? That they’re invisible in the toys they play with? That they’re invisible in society?"
Barbie, of course, wasn't always as inclusive as she is now. It wasn't until 2016that Mattel, Barbie's parent company, launched its "curvy" dolls (which, it should be noted, still feature a doll with some slim features, and a more robust torso and hip area). It also took the brand until 1969 to launch its first black Barbie. And even with the recent additions of more diverse body types and a wider range of skin colors, the brand has faced backlash regarding hair texture, availability of the more diverse dolls in stores, and, of course, that for years the dolls may have contributed to unrealistic body standards for young girls.