Do you follow ‘Barbie’ on Instagram? If not, you may have missed some ground-breaking toy industry news. Just announced on May 11, 2022, Barbie shared via the social platform that upcoming additions to Barbie’s Fashion Doll line will focus on disability representation and diversity inclusion. This includes a Barbie with a behind-the-ear hearing aid and a Barbie with a prosthetic leg; plus, a Ken doll with vitiligo, a condition where the skin loses pigmentation and appears blotchy.
The line will also integrate other aspects of inclusion, such as various body types and hair textures. In fact, a company statement described the upcoming line as its “most diverse and inclusive doll line.”
Lisa McKnight, EVP, Global Head of Barbie & Dolls Portfolio at Mattel, also shared, “Our Barbie Fashionistas line features a range of skin tones, body types and disabilities to reflect the diversity kids see in the world around them. Knowing that kids’ early childhood experiences help shape how they perceive the world, we are dedicated to reflecting a multi-dimensional view of beauty and fashion in our dolls.”
Initial consumer response appears to be overwhelmingly positive. One Instagram respondent, for example, said: “As someone who grew up with Barbie being her favorite toy, collects Barbie as an adult, and has worn a hearing aid since the age of five…..THANK YOU!!!! This brought tears to my eyes.”
This isn’t the first time Barbie’s parent company, Mattel, engaged the disability community with an inclusive product. Back in 2000, a Barbie doll with vitiligo debuted and quickly rose to be one of the top five best-selling Fashionistas at the time. Summer sales will soon reveal if the new Ken doll will garner the same level of success. And more recently in 2020, Mattel introduced a Barbie wheelchair user. This may be the first time, however, that the toymaker worked with medical professionals to ensure accurate representation. Dr. Jen Richardson, an audiology expert and hearing loss advocate, consulted on the inclusive design.
“I’m honored to have worked with Barbie to create an accurate reflection of a doll with behind-the-ear hearing aids. As an educational audiologist with over 18 years of experience working in hearing loss advocacy, it’s inspiring to see those who experience hearing loss reflected in a doll,” Richardson said. “I’m beyond thrilled for my young patients to see and play with a doll who looks like them.”
Barbie, which first debuted in 1959, now has more than 175 different types of dolls. Those eager to infuse disability representation into their Barbie collection can purchase the new dolls starting in June 2022, which just so happens to align with the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Dolls will be available via Amazon, Target and other retailers.