On January 28th, Mattel announced that they would diversify Barbie by introducing dolls with different body types–curvy, tall, petite–and seven different skin tones. I was overjoyed! When I was little, I was always saddened by the fact that I didn’t look like Barbie. With her platinum hair, angelic eyes, and even skin tone, I saw her as the epitome of beauty. Or, so I thought.
Her figure was a point of contention. I envied her ultra-thin frame that went with every outfit. The only women I saw that thin were often slammed on the covers of gossip magazines for being skeletal. Their photos were often accompanied by accusations of eating disorders and chastisements for being underweight.
Additionally, Barbie’s incredible bust was an unattainable ideal for most girls. I, sadly, was not blessed in this area. However, I was given curves in my hips and behind that you couldn’t find on Barbie. My mother assured me that boys would rather date a healthy-looking, fuller woman than a frail toothpick (and this was long before Meghan Trainor said so to bring down skinny women). At a time when my fellow girls aspired to one day be as beautiful as the ultra-thin supermodels rocking the runways, my mother’s advice was heartening to say the least. But I didn’t see having a butt as attractive just because my mom told me it was.
I am not surprised, however, by my mom’s position–not only as my mother but as a confident Latina. The derriere receives a lot more focus in Latin America than it does in the States. Colombian bombshell Sofia Vergara recognized this when asked whether she would rather keep her famous breasts or rear in a 2012 interview for Allure magazine: “In Latin America if you don’t have a big ass, you’re nothing.” Vergara serves as a role model for celebrating how us Latinas are “voluptuous” and is part of several stars embracing their natural curves in the States, including the stunning Christina Hendricks and Beyoncé.
Before I viewed my body as an object of desire, my fellow classmates informed me of the attraction the behind elicits. In sixth grade, when standing in line, I was suddenly approached by a kind boy who seemed concerned. Out of genuine curiosity I asked him what was wrong, only to be taken aback by what caused his unease. “The other boys are staring at your butt! It’s big.” I barely remember what I said past “So?” but was concerned that since I was somehow an object of desire (at the moment), they would make unwanted advances towards me. Thankfully, they did not. Friends in my freshman year of high school also warned me about my caboose generating unwanted attention from guys. Barbie’s lack of a butt did not prepare me for this.
Barbie’s skin tone was also something hard for me to reconcile. Her apricot skin was exactly the color of Crayola’s “Skin” crayon. As an avid drawer growing up in a homogeneously white town, I began to see this skin color as the norm. However, my more tan complexion made it clear it was not possible to have “Skin”.
These beauty standards that Barbie perpetuates hurt grown women as well. Even Tina Fey was put down when appointed the star of her own show 30 Rock for not being blonde, according to a 2008 interview in Vanity Fair. It made me realize that if the Caucasian standards weren’t inclusive enough even for white women, I can hardly imagine the marginalization that must be felt by non-European ethnic minorities.
Mattel finally took this into account by creating new Barbies that are black, brown, and Asian.The multitude of ethnicities represented will hopefully inspire girls to take more pride in their looks and heritage, something I didn’t have when Barbie’s Anglo-Saxon features made me further aware that the ideal “American girl” could never look like me.
I am happy to already see the positive impact this change has on children, thanks to media outlets recording their first reactions. What stuck with me after watching a video by The Guardian was that the little girls believed the new Barbies look like “people that walk down the street”, while the dolls that maintained their old design looked like “normal” Barbie.
I want the point that comes across from these dolls to be that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and that, more importantly, girls should recognize they are beautiful for who they are. The girls in the video enjoyed playing with the wide array of dolls now being made, but they notably appreciated playing with Barbies that looked like them. In a Buzzfeed video the children also identified with the Barbie looked more like her, proving that representation matters in validating one’s identity, especially during the sensitive years of childhood. The children’s reaction to the curvy doll warmed my heart, as they recognized that there is no “average” body type and that there are plenty of people who don’t look like Barbie who also deserve to see themselves in a doll. As this generation grows with more diverse images of what beautiful is, I hope it cuts down on the negative body image women that are all too common while encouraging people from a young age to embrace our country’s diverse backgrounds.