Barbie has come a long way since her debut in 1959. For years, the traditional Barbie was criticized for promoting an unrealistic body image for young girls to emulate. In recent years, Mattel, the US toy giant that manufactures Barbie, has made strides towards inclusivity and diversity in its dolls. The company has created dolls with a range of skin tones reflecting many different ethnicities, as well as dolls with a hearing aid, a prosthetic limb, and a wheelchair. Now, in its latest bid to be more inclusive, Mattel has released a new Barbie featuring a woman with Down’s syndrome.
According to Lisa McKnight, global head of Barbie & Dolls at Mattel, the company’s goal is for “all children to see themselves in Barbie” as well as “play with dolls who do not look like themselves.” Mattel worked closely with the US National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) to ensure the new doll accurately represents a person with Down’s syndrome. The doll’s features include a shorter frame and a longer torso, a rounder face with smaller ears, a flat nasal bridge, and almond-shaped eyes – characteristics often found in women with Down’s syndrome.
The new Barbie’s puff-sleeved dress is yellow and blue, colors associated with Down’s syndrome awareness. The doll also wears a pink pendant necklace with three upward chevrons representing the three copies of the 21st chromosome, the genetic material that causes the characteristics associated with Down’s syndrome. The doll also wears pink ankle foot orthotics to match its outfit, as some children with Down’s syndrome use orthotics to support their feet and ankles.
The release of the new Barbie has been met with enthusiasm from advocates for inclusivity and diversity. British model Ellie Goldstein, an advocate for the visibility and understanding of people with Down’s syndrome, expressed her excitement at the new doll, saying that she felt “overwhelmed” when she saw it. Goldstein said that diversity is important and that “people need to see more people like me out there in the world and not be hidden away.” The new Barbie has also been hailed as a huge step forward for inclusion and representation by the Down’s syndrome community, who now have a doll that looks like them to play with.