In recent years, Mattel, the company behind Barbie, and other popular toys has started to diversify their once limited Barbie doll selection. They’ve called this initiative “Inspiring Women,” and last week they announced that they’ve made some new additions: Black History Month dolls. This new line features Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, and Ella Fitzgerald, but this isn’t the first effort Mattel has made to diversify Barbie.
For me growing up, I can only remember 3 different types of Barbie dolls. Sure, they had endless careers and outfits, but there were only 3 different skin colors, and they all had the same body structure— unrealistic. They might be plastic dolls with no real meaning or value, but dolls are the first things most children have to inspire them, so having dolls that look like them is detrimental. To show their recognition of this, Mattel released a statement saying, “Children’s early experiences shape what they imagine to be possible. It’s important for them to see themselves reflected in product and content and to be exposed to different skin tones, hair types, and abilities. Barbie recognizes the importance of representation and is committed to continuing to better reflect the world kids see today.” Barbie now the most inclusive and diverse line of dolls with 35 skin tones, 94 hairstyles, and 9 body types, including disabled and/or handicapped.With this, Mattel has made efforts specific to the Black community. In June 2020, they released a commitment stating, “We cannot achieve our mission to inspire the limitless potential in every girl without acknowledging the barriers and racism impacting Black girls speciﬁcally. We stand united in the ﬁght against racism and are committed to showing up, doing the work, and allocating the resources. We know these actions are just the beginning, and we will keep working until the next generation truly believes they can be anything, without the barriers of racial injustice and discrimination.”
All in all, Mattel still has a long way to go to fulfill their mission, but I respect that they’ve acknowledged the problem, have improved, and are still actively seeking ways to improve. Consequently, I was thrilled to have seen the release of the Black History Month dolls. If there had been a Maya Angelou doll when I was a little girl, I think that would’ve made my whole world, and I hope that’s what these new developments are doing for the little girls of today.