Since Barbie originally hit shelves back on March 9, 1959, the doll everyone has come to love has evolved and changed with the times. From the zebra striped swimsuit wearing doll to a chef, a doctor, an Olympian. Soon enough fans of the brand were able to access Barbies of different races and body types after a public push for diversity and criticism that the “perfect” doll promoted an unrealistic body type for girls. After the groundbreaking launch to further diversify the brand behind the doll, Mattel, has collaborated with a thirteen-year-old disabled activist Jordan Reeves. The teen was born without a forearm and has worked with Mattel to introduce dolls that are disabled.
For the first time, young disabled children will get to play with Barbie dolls who have realistic wheelchairs similar to theirs and have accurate prosthetic limbs as well.
The overall response from the disabled community has been praising Mattel for creating an accurate representation for their Barbie brand. That is not only important for the world to see, especially when so many other companies have failed to show disabled people correctly because of their unwillingness to work with disabled people in production. Mattel has listened to disabled people begging for dolls that look like them and made the effort to work with disabled people to create the most authentic disabled doll as possible. These new disabled dolls have made many adults in the disabled community reminisce of their childhood when they dreamed of seeing a doll like them using mobility aids or missing limbs. And are excited to purchase the disabled Barbie doll to fulfill their childhood dreams. And speaking of dreams, along with the Barbie doll having an accurate wheelchair, Mattel is also including a Barbie DreamHouse-compatible ramp!
Guess the Barbie world knows the importance of being accessible and ADA compliant.
While most are celebrating, the disabled community had some well deserved constructive criticism of the new dolls.
One of the biggest constructive criticisms is the lack of diverse bodies, races, and ethnicities for the disabled Barbie dolls. It’s been widely known (thanks to the hashtag #DisabilityTooWhite) that when disability representation is given, it’s usually only shown as a white, slim disabled person, which is only a small fraction of what disabled people look like. Many people of color who are disabled and disabled allies have praised Mattel for the dolls but hopes more disabled dolls will be released who are multiple sizes, multiple races, and multiple ethnicities. Along with expanding the range of disability with Barbie dolls who use canes, walkers or wear braces on their ankles.
As for myself, I’m excited that these disabled dolls, though long overdue, are finally going to exist.
Courtesy of Andrea Lausell
I couldn’t help but reminisce as others have done, about my childhood with Barbie. As far back as I can remember, my ride or die when I was a little girl were Barbie dolls. Almost the way Angelica’s relationship towards her Cynthia doll was in Rugrats. The Teresa Barbie doll was my “Cynthia” and meant the world to me because for the first time, I was playing with a doll that looked like my family, Latinx. Teresa (oddly enough my sister has the same name) looked like my sister and therefore she felt like family. I even pretend she was bilingual like myself, went on many adventures with her, and confided in her through difficult times I would have. She was my best friend but as a child, I felt only half of a connection with her. Teresa wasn’t disabled, she didn’t use an aid or had multiple scars like me. And never in my life did I think there would be any doll, let alone a Barbie doll who would match my disabled body.
My hope along with the hope many of those in the disabled community have is that Mattel’s wheelchair and prosthetic using disabled Barbie dolls are the start of a revolution for children’s toys. Toys, especially dolls have been where kids learn about friendships, relationships and how to get along with those who are different from them. They learn to use their imagination and build compassion for others. By having accurate disabled dolls, it’s not only showing kids in general that there’s nothing wrong with disability, but it is also showing disabled kids that they’re normal and beautiful like their abled peers and their abled dolls. These disabled Barbie dolls are great companions for any disabled child and would be greater if they start making diverse disabled Barbie dolls with many types of disabilities, mobility aids and even adding scars to the dolls. Hopefully, this will make other toy companies begin to have disability in mind when creating new toys. Mattel’s new disabled Barbie dolls will be life-changing for so many disabled kids who want to have a companion who knows what they’re going through and get them through anything life throws at them the way my Teresa Barbie was for me.