Mattel’s New Athlete Barbies: A Step Forward or a Marketing Ploy?

Mattel, the renowned toy company, recently launched a new line of Barbie dolls celebrating nine iconic women in sports, including stars like Mary Fowler and Venus Williams. According to Krista Berger of Mattel, the aim is to recognize the positive impact of sports in empowering young girls and fostering self-confidence. However, the question arises – is this a genuine step towards gender progressiveness, or is it merely a strategic marketing move that exploits feminism for profit?

Dolls and Gender Norms

The discussion surrounding Mattel’s Barbie range is crucial as play is fundamental to children’s development. Historically, doll play has reinforced gender stereotypes by promoting ideals of domesticity and physical beauty, particularly targeting young girls. Feminists have raised concerns about the potential impact of such stereotypical portrayals on children’s socialization.

Barbie’s Controversial Past

Barbie’s origins trace back to a German doll named Bild Lilli, marketed towards adults before being rebranded for an American audience. Barbie’s unrealistic body proportions have sparked debates on body image and beauty ideals, perpetuating narrow standards of femininity and attractiveness. While Mattel has introduced more diverse Barbies in recent years, the underlying issue of unrealistic beauty standards persists.

Representation in the New Barbie Range

Mattel’s latest Barbie collection featuring pioneering women athletes aims to promote diversity and empowerment. However, while the dolls showcase diversity in skin color and abilities, they still conform to a narrow body ideal, lacking the athleticism of the real athletes they represent. This discrepancy raises questions about the authenticity of the representation offered by these dolls.

Corporate Feminism and Unrealistic Expectations

By aligning Barbie with accomplished women athletes, Mattel appears to challenge gender stereotypes. However, this portrayal may contribute to a new form of corporate feminism that commodifies women’s empowerment. The dolls in the new range set unrealistic standards for young girls, emphasizing physical perfection and sporting prowess over authenticity and diversity.

The Need for Realistic Representation

As research suggests, playing with dolls that reflect realistic body types can reduce body dissatisfaction among children. Mattel’s reluctance to move away from Barbie’s traditional body mold raises concerns about the company’s commitment to inclusivity and authenticity. To truly embrace diversity and empowerment, Mattel must reconsider the rigid beauty standards perpetuated by Barbie.

In conclusion, while Mattel’s new athlete Barbies may signal a step towards inclusivity, the dolls’ adherence to unrealistic beauty ideals raises questions about the company’s commitment to genuine representation. As discussions on gender norms and diversity continue, it is essential for brands like Mattel to prioritize authenticity and inclusivity in their products.

By Lauren Gurrieri, RMIT University and Suzie Gibson, Charles Sturt University