Mattel released 5 new minority Barbie dolls in November—did you notice?
Thanks to what’s called a “brand before band” marketing partnership with Mattel, pop group Fifth Harmony released Barbie dolls in their own likeness last month. What makes the group unique is that each member comes from a different racial and cultural background. Normani Kordei (18) is African-American, Dinah Jane (17) is Polynesian/Tongan-American, Camila Cabello (17) is Cuban/Mexican-American, Lauren Jauregui (18) is Cuban-American, and Ally Brooke Hernandez (21) is Mexican-American.
While the majority of Mattel’s Barbies are still fair-skinned, the release of the Fifth Harmony dolls is an important move. These five different cultural backgrounds are representing thousands of young girls who may not have ever had dolls that looked like them before. Without the release of these dolls would there have been a Polynesian or Cuban doll in stores right now? Probably not.
Chances are you missed their release because news of another kind of doll was making headlines last week instead. While you may not have heard of the Fifth Harmony dolls, you probably caught wind of the Lammily doll.
This doll is being dubbed as "realistic" or "average" because she has curves and acne. While the doll may not be shaped like a super model and isn’t blonde, just like the typical Barbie doll, Lammily is white.
Nickolay Lamm, the creator of the Lammily doll, spoke to various media outlets about his creation. "The message I want to send is that it's not what you look like. That doesn't define you. What you do does," Lamm told CNN.com. He added that he had a terrible time in high school saying "I really cared about how I looked, and I didn't feel good about myself.”
What Lamm is doing with this doll is great because it allows girls of all shapes and sizes to own dolls that reflect what real human women look like. However, by only releasing a Caucasian doll, it still contributes to a real problem in the toy industry: the lack of racial and ethnic diversity. Like Lamm’s terrible time in high school, young girls of color often grow up not feeling great about themselves and who they are. The only difference is they can’t just grow out of their skin color or cultural identity like he grew out of his awkward adolescent stage.
In a recent report by a local CBS affiliate in Philadelphia Vannessa Butler, an African-American mother, struggled to find a doll that looked like her daughter while shopping for Black Friday. Her daughter wanted a black Barbie and Ken mini Cooper set, but the only Barbies sold in that gift set were white. The mom mentions that to get her daughter the set with a black Barbie, Ken, and a car, she would have to buy the dolls and the car separately, essentially paying twice as much as a Caucasian parent who can simply buy the pre-packaged gift set.
Butler decided to take use her frustration to make a change by starting a petition to urge toy manufacturers to increase diversity in their products.
The report also took a look at the Mattel website and other stores to gauge whether there was a more diverse selection online, but they found that was not the case. The Barbie manufacturer currently has 240 dolls on sale online, only 9 of which are African-American.
If you aren’t African-American, Asian, Hispanic, or any other racial minority, chances are you’ve rarely, if ever, felt like there is no one you can relate to in popular culture. Whether it’s shopping for dolls or watching the Disney Channel, many of us grew up wondering why we rarely saw ourselves represented. The toy industry's tendency to praise Eurocentric features while rarely choosing to showcase racial minorities is detrimental. Why must children of color grow up wondering why society seemingly doesn’t value them?
So, if there’s a young girl in your life that’s asking for a Barbie for Christmas, think about what it might mean to her to have a doll that truly represents who she is.