Growing up, Barbies were my go-to toy of choice. I could spend hours after school recreating different scenarios with them. Sometimes they were storylines from movies and series I watched as a child, and sometimes I rewrote personal experiences. Fights I had with my friends or making my play session an emotional preparation for a party that was making me feel nervous. The storylines were endless and Barbies were, for me, the perfect vehicle to concretize my feelings, fears, anxieties, and desires.
Back in 2015, Mattel launched one of their best ads. In it, they perfectly captured what makes Barbies so appealing. It gives young children the opportunity to become anyone they want to be. Through play, children can see their imagination come to life. And, while Barbies have experienced some backlash from portraying unrealistic body image expectations, they are certainly moving forward in the self-image area.
This week, Barbie launched the latest instalment in their Shero doll collection. The Sheroes collection is based on female heroes who “inspire girls by breaking boundaries and expanding possibilities for women everywhere”. The collection has already included Misty Copeland, Ashley Graham, Ava DuVernay, Gabby Douglas and, most recently, Ibtihaj Muhammad, making hers the first Barbie doll to wear a hijab.
Why does this collection matter?
In their 58 years of history, Barbie has received mixed reviews from the media, especially professionals in the mental health field. The American Psychiatric Association has pointed out the need to include body diversity within the Barbie realm. “Having dolls with different body types is only one piece of the puzzle,” they mention, “but it is an opportunity to understand media as a protective factor”.
This is why this collection of Sheroes is so important to our young girls. These dolls represent real women, who children can relate to and make their play far more meaningful. They represent a wide variety of body types, professions, religions, and races, making Barbie far more inclusive and diverse.
What makes Barbie so appealing?
I might be slightly biased when writing about Barbies, because, to me, they were always a great vessel to fully explore my imagination. They allowed me to rewrite personal stories and make them my own. They allowed me to refine my interpersonal skills. According to Charles Schaefer, commonly known as “the father of play therapy”, one of the therapeutic powers of play is self-expression. To me, that’s what playing with Barbies represented: an opportunity for self-expression.
I would always gravitate towards the ones that looked the most like me, which is why the latest Shero Barbie is so important. It broadens the opportunity for self-expression to millions of other girls who, like Ibtihaj Muhammad or Ashley Graham, were longing for a better, increased and necessary representation of themselves in media.
What does the Shero collection mean to the future of play?
While there is still much to be done to challenge media’s portrayal of women, Barbie’s Shero collection is definitely a step in the right direction. More importantly, a step in the right direction for the future of play. With this diverse and inclusive representation, people will – hopefully – become more aware of their differences. When awareness is installed, it’s easier for children to recognize, acknowledge, respect and honor diversity.
With this simple doll, Mattel is showing us that every voice matters. Every body matters. Every girl matters. And with this collection, children will be able to discover this powerful lesson through play.