Barbie's New Wheelchair-Using Doll Is A New Step Towards Inclusivity
Over the past several decades, American toy company Mattel has been working toward making their line of Barbie dolls more inclusive and diverse than before. The once slender, primarily white and blonde dolls have expanded to include Barbies with a variety of skin colors, body types, and hairstyles. In 2019, the Barbie line is about to get even more diversified — and Barbie's new wheelchair-using doll is a huge step toward inclusivity.
On Feb. 11, 2019, Mattel announced new additions to their Fashionista line including a Barbie doll with a wheelchair and another with a removable prosthetic leg, per a report from Teen Vogue. Kim Culmone, Barbie's Global Head of Design, told Elite Daily in an e-mail that the brand was proud that today's kids would know a "different image and experience of the brand." She said:
For 60 years, Barbie has been a reflection of culture and fashion and that is key to the brand’s continued relevance. As we design Barbie for the next generation, we are focused on evolving to remain the most diverse doll line in the marketplace. This year our Barbie line will include dolls reflecting physical disabilities in order to better represent the people and the world kids see around them. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is a critical component of our design process and we are proud that today’s kids will know a different image and experience of the brand.
The company also announced that it will be adding dolls with braided hair texture, smaller busts, curvier figures, and more defined arms alongside Barbie who uses a wheelchair and Barbie with a prosthetic leg, per Good Morning America. In a statement to Teen Vogue, Culmone revealed that wheelchair-using Barbie was created as a direct response to customers demand. "A wheelchair or doll in a wheelchair was one of the most requested items through our consumer ... hotline," she said. "It's important to us to listen to our consumers."
The new dolls incorporated input from members of the disability advocacy community, including 13-year-old Jordan Reeves, co-founder of "Born Just Right," per Teen Vogue, and considered details like whether the doll's prosthetic limb should be removable. The company also reportedly worked with a team at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) to create an accurate wheelchair.
According to the Barbie website, the Fashionista line already has seven body types, 11 skin tones, and 18 different hairstyles. The line also includes three different versions of Ken with different body types: broad, slim, and original.
If you feel like you're having déjà vu, you're not, because Barbie has actually released a doll who uses a wheelchair before. Back in 1997, Toys "R" Us and Mattel released “Share-a-Smile Becky,” Barbie's friend Becky who used a wheelchair. At the time, Nancy Zwiers, a Mattel senior vice president in charge of Barbie marketing said Becky would reflect the "real world." Even though the doll sold around 6,000 units in the first two weeks of its release, Becky was discontinued after customers complained that the wheelchair didn't fit through doors of the Barbie Dreamhouse. Mattel's decision was criticized by people like Karin Hitselberger, a blogger who wrote about Becky's discontinuation and why the doll had been so important. She wrote, "Having a doll in a wheelchair sends a great message to disabled and nondisabled children alike, but if that doll cannot fully participate in the fantasy society it is a part of, it just reinforces the message that disabled people are different, and disability is problematic." Mattel did not immediately return Elite Daily's request for comment on the discontinued doll or the criticism around it.
According to Teen Vogue, the new line of Barbie dolls will be available in fall 2019, so mark your calendars.