I remember the Friday evening I got my first Barbie doll like it was yesterday. I was out shopping with my parents as one does (I was probably about 5/6 years old) and asked my mom if I could get a Barbie doll. I kept asking and kept getting shot down, but tonight, my mom must have been in a giving mood.

So I became the proud owner of a ‘Tropical Barbie’ – she was beautiful, she had long blonde hair, with a one-shoulder strap one-piece swimsuit in psychedelic colours on it. She had the tiniest waist, big blue eyes and perfect boobs. She was the crown jewel in my toy collection.

More than two decades later (and I am giving away my age here), Mattel, the toy company that produces Barbie, has given her a makeover. After much criticism over years, that the doll was introducing girls to an unrealistic body image, and was not representative of all women. Then Barbie started losing popularity among young girls – so it was these factors that encouraged the revamp.

Let’s be honest, it was high time for a change, how could every girl in the world, in all shapes and sizes and ethnicities relate to a blonde hair, blue-eyed, tiny-waisted doll? I couldn’t, because I was none of those things.
The all new Barbie options were unveiled last week, girls everywhere will see three new body types – petite, tall and curvy. There are also seven skin tones, 22 eye colors, 24 hairstyles and new clothes and accessories.

I spoke to five well-known South African women to find out what they thought of the changes…

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Florence Letoaba, TV and radio News anchor, who said, “Sounds cool but I’m very negative about the whole thing. Barbie was at some stage the leading doll range in the world, you could not get better than Barbie for that reason I believe Mattel should have led the trend when it comes to diversity not follow what other lesser brands have been doing. It’s about their profits & seeing that not evolving will cost them. Barbie has caused many self image problems for girls & made them for years believe that something is wrong if you don’t look like that. It’s what magazines still do to women.”

Roxy Burger, TV personality and entrepreneur, was more optimistic about the changes, “It’s about time that Barbie got a makeover! I think it’s awesome that Barbie now comes in all shapes, sizes and races. But now what needs to change along with this is the language we use. For example, “Plus Size Model” when the model is perfectly normal sized! I would definitely buy a new Barbie for a little girl.”

Sureshnie Rider, radio presenter, says, “I’m so glad Mattel has decided to make dolls, representative of what women of the real world look like. My daughter needs to relate to dolls the way she sees women in the real word. Women who are proud of their curves, dark skin,or voluptuous breasts or even stretch marks. Those are part of our story. All these are beautiful realities which we need to teach our kids to love and embrace.”

Lerato Sengadi, media personality said, “It’s great they are making iconic Barbie more diverse and relatable. She has always been the standard of beauty that little (& not so little) girls use to gauge themselves. I think we should also insure that these new additions to the Barbie collection also show Barbie as a modern, driven, ambitious female as she has been in the past. Barbie has been an astronaut, doctor, chef, race car driver etc. we can’t just make the dolls diverse but have no back story/ substance.”

The New Barbies

Lisa Raleigh, wellness expert believed this was a step in the right direction, “I think subtle changes like these have a powerful impact on our growing youth and the messages we send them about their bodies. Mattel’s change to Barbie is a sterling example of adults taking responsibility for the development of healthy body image in our children. Such steps help them create a more rational perspective on body ‘norms’, and keep iconic toys relatable to a larger margin of our younger society.”

Well, time will only tell how these new dolls will be received by little girls. The big question is – if they don’t sell, will Mattel do away with them? Because at the end of the day, while they claim their sentiments are to embrace diversity and so doing send a positive message to young girls, they are running a business and if these changes affect the bottom line negatively, will they pull the plug on these otherwise positive strides they have made?