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Barbie gets real

The first joke I ever made up, aged four, was not only a knock knock joke, but a Barbie knock knock joke. It went:

‘Knock, knock’ (or if I’m honest, when this joke was conceived I would have said: ‘lock, lock’)

‘Who’s there?’

‘Barbie’

‘Barbie who?’

‘Barbie and Ken!’

Gotcha! Bet you thought Barbie was at your door with Skipper. Why am I sharing this Barbie joke today? Because as of today Barbie is, apparently, entering into the realms of the ‘real woman’. A term I don’t really like because it usually implies that real women are curvy, which is hardly the way forward for diversity and is, y’know, rude to women who happen to be athletic or very slim.

But Barbie – or rather the Barbie mould – is embracing diversity! No longer will Barbie only be available in white. No more waspish waists and endless legs. Now you can buy your Barbie in three different shapes – petite, curvy and tall, with various colourings and hairstyles including afro and red hair.

Evelyn Mazzocco, Barbie’s global general manager, said: “We are excited to literally be changing the face of the brand – these new dolls represent a line that is more reflective of the world girls see around them – the variety in body type, skin tones and style allows girls to find a doll that speaks to them. We believe we have a responsibility to girls and parents to reflect a broader view of beauty.”

I loved Barbie. I would play with her for hours creating the matriarchy of Barbie, Skipper and Princess Laura (who no-one remembers… in fact Google tells me in America she dethroned to just plain Whitney. Whitney) who would order the Kens around and regularly turn down marriage proposals.

Not once did I see her as an aspirational figure. She was a toy. A toy whose jewellery was really hard to locate if you dropped them on the carpet. It is telling that many people see Barbie as yet another impossible yet aspirational image presented to young girls alongside the photoshopped images they are increasingly bombarded with.

Could it be that the way we treat Barbie is symptomatic of the way we regard women? As objects – no matter what their career or lifestyle might be (let it not be forgotten Barbie was a vet, an astronaut AND a GP. She’s a grafter), all that matters is their image. But woe betide if their image matters to them because then they’re a bimbo. Makes sense, right? Right.

I hope that a more diverse range of Barbies to play with helps children recognise the value of difference and I hope adults can learn – maybe through play – to stop presenting unrealistic aspirational images to children…