7 Ways Barbie Has Changed & Empowered Young Girls

Since 1959, Barbie has been inspiring girls to be anything they want to be. But with the inspiration comes some scrutiny. Over the years, Barbie has been heavily criticized for her outlandish body proportions and grossly stereotypical branding, outfits, and career choices.

Although Barbie had been downplayed for its unhealthy and unattainable standards for young women, Mattel has been offering more dolls that reflect today’s increasingly diverse world in order to help promote a positive body image.

Body Image
From the beginning, Barbie has conveyed an unrealistic body image to girls and the concern was that they would try to emulate the doll's physical appearance. Barbie’s measurements have been estimated to be at 36” - 18” - 33” at 5’9”. The global average height of an adult woman stands at 5’3” making Barbie’s height alone unrelatable.

A handful of studies suggest that Barbie had some influence on what girls saw as an ideal body type. A 2006 study published in a Developmental Psychology journal, found that girls exposed to Barbie at a young age expressed greater concern with being thin, compared with those exposed to other dolls.

With the appearance and lifestyle of Barbie being the center of controversy, Mattel has changed the doll to be more like girls of each generation. Below are 7 ways Barbie has changed over the years and how it’s empowering young girls.

  1. Over the years, many diverse dolls were available, but they were only friends of Barbie. In 1980, Mattel released the first African American and Hispanic Barbie dolls.

  2. Barbie was redesigned in 1997 to give her a wider waist, making the doll better suited to contemporary fashion designs and more realistic to the girls who play with her.

  3. In 2015, an ad campaign/video titled “What happens when girls are free to imagine they can be anything” came out to inspire young children to dream big. It’s a short video that follows several young girls as they explore a day in the life of their dream jobs. If you haven’t watched it, Google the name and watch it on YouTube. It’s very sweet and empowering.

  4. Barbie surveyed 8,000 mothers and found out that 86% of them were worried about what kind of role models their daughters are exposed to. In response, the company released a series of empowering women dolls called Role Models : Inspiring Women : You Can Be Anything Barbie. These extraordinary women from the past and present took risks, changed rules and paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever before.
    The first three dolls to be released were artist Frida Kahlo, aviator Amelia Earhart and NASA engineer Katherine Johnson. Other dolls from this collection include Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Bindi Irwin, Hélène Darroze, Ella Fitzgerald, and now Maya Angelou.

  5. In 2016, Mattel reintroduced Barbie Fashionistas who had a range of new body types: tall, petite and curvy. With that came 7 skin tones, 22 eye colors and 24 hairstyles. Curvy Barbie received a great deal of media attention and even made the cover of Time Magazine with the headline “Now Can We Stop Talking About My Body?”

    These Barbie's were created to address the longtime criticism that the dolls didn’t accurately reflect the diversity of modern women.

  6. Also in 2016, Barbie educated her viewers by trying to remove the harmful stigma from mental health. A kid-friendly Barbie vlog titled “Feeling Blue? You’re Not Alone” begins with Barbie waking up one morning feeling a little blue for no reason. This video is a stepping stone for the crucial conversation you need to have with your child(ren) about mental health.

  7. In 2020 Mattel unveiled new versions of Barbie that look more like the children who play with them. Some of these Barbie's have vitiligo, prosthetic limbs or a wheelchair. Others are bald Barbie or gender-inclusive. Even Ken, Barbie’s companion, has a new look, long hair.
No matter how much negative feedback Barbie receives each year, the doll continues to evolve to better reflect the world our children see around them, encouraging the limitless potential in each and every one of them. Go Barbie!

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