Barbie manufacturer Mattel has unveiled a line of “gender-inclusive” dolls that its creators say will “knock down barriers to play” and enable all children to “express themselves freely”.
Named Creatable World, the line consists of six “customizable” dolls available in different skin tones. The dolls are sold in kits containing two wigs and a selection of clothing and accessories, allowing children to style the toys with short or long hair, and a skirt, trousers, or both.
Mattel is best known for propelling Barbie to international stardom and in 2018 alone the 60-year-old clotheshorse generated in excess of US $1bn (£800m) in sales for the company. But some consumers have tired of the plastic plaything, accusing it of promoting unrealistic expectations about beauty and reinforcing sexist stereotypes among girls – a talking iteration launched in the Nineties issued proclamations including “Math class is tough” and “Want to go shopping?”
The US toymaker has attempted to tackle these concerns by launching pilot and engineer Barbies.
It has also reacted to criticism around the lack of racial diversity in Barbie World by introducing a black doll with natural hair who uses a wheelchair, and subsequently a Rosa Parks figurine in honor of the civil rights activist. Creatable World dolls ‘free of labels’, The new Creatable World dolls, which retail at £34.99 each, were developed in consultation with parents, doctors, and children, and have won praise from gender equality campaigners who viewed the range prior to its launch.
“We felt it was time to create a doll line free of labels,” said Kim Culmone, senior vice president of design for Barbie and fashion dolls at Mattel.
“Through research, we heard that kids don’t want their toys dictated by gender norms. This line allows all kids to express themselves freely…We’re hopeful Creatable World will encourage people to think more broadly about how all kids can benefit from doll play.”
Cara Natterson a US pediatrician who consulted with Mattel during the toy’s development said she was asked to advise the manufacturer on what would be appropriate in terms of the size, proportions, and physiology.
“A collection like this just knocks down every barrier to play,” she said. A toy for all children? Megan Perryman campaigns with the UK grassroots group Let Toys Be Toys, which encourages retailers to stop categorizing toys, books, and clothes by gender and promoting some as suitable only for girls and others only for boys.
She believes “children will see themselves reflected in the doll”.
“All children will feel that they can play with it,” said Ms. Perryman, a teacher.
“They won’t feel put off by any marketing images, there’s no color or language or motifs that might suggest that Creatable World is for one child and not for another.”