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Barbie Reimagined for Kids With Disabilities

(and a removable prosthetic leg!)

Back in 1959, when Ruth Saddler brought the Barbie doll into the toy market she drew from the stereotypical white American girl, however, in the last few years the toy company Mattel has turned its doll collection in the name of diversity. Barbie is no longer white and blonde, her skin comes in 23 shades and she features natural hair. As of 11 February, Mattel will be including Barbie dolls with different body types and disabilities, featuring a doll with a wheelchair and prosthetic leg.

‘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 for us to listen to our consumers.’

The initiative for the prosthetic leg was actually initiated by a 13-year-old with a prosthetic arm, Jordan Reeves. Jordan started a campaign for dolls with limb differences back in ’15 according to Makezine. Her ideas were an essential part of the creation of the doll, as she insisted that the prosthetic should be removable. Mattel said in a statement, ‘As a brand, we can elevate the conversation around physical disabilities by including them into our fashion doll line to further showcase a multi-dimensional view of beauty and fashion.’

The relevance of toys that are diverse and inclusive has been highlighted by psychologists and different campaigns like the UK’s #toylikeme initiative push for toys that represent kids with disabilities. The campaign was started by journalist Rebecca Atkinson who grew up wearing hearing aids and never saw herself reflected on the toys she played with.

‘To exclude in the toy box teaches ALL children it’s OK to exclude in real life.  I wanted to change this for generations to come by getting global brands like Lego, Mattel, and Playmobil to include positive representations of disability in their products.’

Mattel has faced some hard backlash regarding its inclusivity before so this is a step in the right direction. ‘The feedback we got about the doll and the brand was not in line with what our intentions were. We took that really seriously,’ Culmone said. ‘Out of it came increased ethnicity, body type — all things we had explored on the brand previously over the past 20 years I’d been here. So we then decided there would be a cadence of revisions done to the brand.’

Though this is a big milestone for Mattel, some have been quick to criticize and say that it may not be enough. This Forbes article claims that the toy company has to adapt the doll to fit all of the Barbie accessories, otherwise it will reduce the ability that kids have to play with it. The representation of people with disabilities in pop culture is an ongoing challenge, and this is only a small step forward to change that.

Hopefully, the change in representation within the toy industry means that not only disabilities but also other challenging issues such as gender will continue to be represented in a way that teaches children to be more inclusive, and above all, that it’s okay to be different.

Also, here is to hoping that Ken also gets a makeover!

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