- Olivia Luchini
The other day, I was with my sister at our neighborhood Target. We were there to buy five notebooks for her school year that was starting the next day, so naturally we wasted loads of time by perusing the toy section. The Target toy section has looked the same for years. You have your Lego row, your Disney row, the Power Rangers/Transformers/Star Wars/superhero hell row that has no organization, the row with the American Girl doll knock-offs that have those dead eyes, that one row with action figures for WWE wrestlers and then, of course, the Barbie row.
For many years, the Barbie row looked the same. It was box after box of the typical white, blonde doll in a princess gown or a ballerina costume, perhaps a mermaid tail or a casual outfit here and there. Everything was pink and delicate, and the doll in the outfits was identical across the row (with the occassional interjection of friend or two who got the lesser accessories, colors, pets, etc.).
However, when Ellie and I got to this row, we noticed a massive change since our childhoods. There were dolls of many different colors who had diffferent hair textures, different eyes, different features and far more diverse senses of style. It was really refreshing because it presented a choice for children. If they wanted a doll who looked like them, they could have it. Yet, this made me think, "Did this awesome step in the right direction happen with sizes as well?"
This might seem like a silly or melodramatic reaction to have to a doll section, but I feel it is valid. Barbie has faced controversy after controversy when it comes to weight and size. Lest we forget to two editions of Barbie (Barbie Baby-Sits and Slumber Party) that came with books for the doll to read entitled How to Lose Weight with the advice "Don't eat!" proudly scrawled within it. Barbie has also gotten heavy criticism for the dimensions she represents. Modeled on a 1:6 scale, Barbie is about 5'6 when measured from heel to the top of the head (since her feet are often permanently in a tip-toe position to allow the doll to wear heels, many think that she's 5'9 when she is measured from toe to top of head). Barbie's waist would be 21.2 inches and her hips would be about 30 inches if she were the size of a human, giving her a very slight figure without sacrificing a pretty wild hip-waist ratio. These measuremnts are based off of a chart within BBC writer Claire Bates' article on the new Barbie forms.
Well, I gave you those measurements because Barbie has attempted to diversify the sizing of its dolls! In 2016, the brand launched FOUR different sizes of their Fashionista dolls. I feel the need to specify that these are Fashionista dolls and Fashionista dolls only, as you will still mainly find the standard Barbie form when it comes to dolls with special activities or features, though there are some exceptions here and there.
These four sizes are original (kind of sounds like what you'd call a chip flavor), curvy, petite and tall.
So. For one, I feel as though I stated my thoughts on the phrase curvy substituting for chunky in modern entertainment pretty thoroughly in my original blog post found here, but I'll briefly state again. There are ways to be thicker or chunkier without gaining weight exclusively in the breast and butt, curvy seems to just be a new trendy body that still excludes plus-size people, it is often used to described figures who are still slim but have a fuller butt, curvy largely implies that a body has to have curves to it if it is not skinny, blah blah blah. So, I had some issues when I heard of this new "curvy" Barbie, but I studied on.
Based on dimensions, curvy Barbie would wear a US size 4. Obviously, it doesn't take a lot of experience with fashion or the body to know that a size 4 is still a small when put on an XS-XL range. However, I'll try not to rely on the statistics as much as the doll's actual appearance for this critique.
What we'll notice pretty much immediately about the doll is that she's not THAT curvy. Honestly, in my experience with the row of Barbies at Target, you really had to pick up the boxes and look closely as the calves and arms to know if it was a curvy doll or not. The main differences with the doll are her waist, her arms, her legs and the lack of a thigh gap that had been seen in Barbie dolls since their creation. Due to the clothes that you'll find curvy dolls in, you can never really see the difference in waist. A lot of the outfits are either boxy, baggy or with a peplum cut, making it hard to see the figure underneath (but isn't that seen in the human fashion industry as well? can I get an amen? *high fives self*).
Even though this doll isn't exactly the poster child of plus-size fashion, I will say that I appreciate the effort to represent a shape outside of Barbie's usual one. I would assume that this doll isn't bigger because they fear bad sales and children choosing this doll over another doll and that classic story, but, from what I hear, these dolls are selling very well, so rest easy.
Let's move onto tall Barbie (just to be clear, I'm not going to be covering petite Barbie because she doesn't have much to do with my point about bigger women being presented to children positively).
Tall Barbie (pictured furthest right above) would be 5'11 if she was life-size, opposed to the 5'6 original Barbie. She'd have a 22 inch waist and the same size hips, 30 inches, as original Barbie. What we'll notice in this doll is that her torso was changed along with her height. Whereas the petite Barbie appears to just be original Barbie scaled down, tall Barbie gains a less hourglass figure, in a lot of ways adopting the physique stereotypically associated with tall women that I would say was born out of the fashion industry and runway modeling.
What I appreciated about this doll was that they didn't just slap some longer legs onto a standard torso and that they put some thought into the idea that her torso might not resemble what a shorter person's would look like. However, I will say that tall Barbie seems to further the idea that tall women are just stretched out editions of standard-size women. The lanky tall woman gets the most representation out of the bigger woman figures, and that is evident in this doll. Though there are many women who are both tall and chunky, these dolls place those two characteristics on opposite sides of a battlefield.
This is my greatest issue with the idea of the four body types for these dolls. They do the same thing that I critiqued the Seventeen magazines of my childhood for doing. They force you to choose between being chunky OR tall, because they don't show women who are both. They use the word "curvy" to masquerade saying "plus-size" because that seems to be a curse word. They make TSC (tall, strong, chunky) women have to decide if they identify more with their height or their weight, whereas slender buyers could realistically identify with 75%, if not 100% since she's a US size 4, of these dolls due to their sizes.
Though I think that Barbie dolls are stepping in the right direction, I cannot imagine that they don't have the means to make oodles of different molds for their dolls, given the insane varieties in size between Barbie, her three sisters, Ken and these three new figures. Because of that, I would like to see the curviness applied to taller dolls or shorter dolls for the sake of understanding that the human body can have an unaverage height while simultaneously being a different weight. Representation shouldn't be one of those "you can only choose 2" triangle photos where the options are seeing yourself in entertainment, unique height and unique weight. Though Barbie dolls seem like they would have a miniscule effect on the minds of children, exposing young people to diversity in all forms is essential to create kinder, more confident and more understanding people.
If you are looking for "curvy" Barbie dolls to buy for children or yourself, you can look through the options at this link. Most of them are just under $10, which is another reason that Barbie's diversity is important. Barbie is one of the more affordable toys on the market when she's not jam-packed with accessories and horses. She's accessible, being sold at Targets and Walmarts everywhere. She's able to be present in many children's lives.
If you are looking for a "tall" Barbie, you can look through those options at this link. There are significantly less options for this choice than for her curvy counterpart.
If you happen to want a Barbie who is "curvy" but has a little imagination to her, you should look toward the Made to Move Dancer Doll, the Barbie Dreamtopia Mermaid Doll (my personal favorite because she has pink hair and a rainbow tail), Rainbow Cove Fairy Doll, and the Rainbow Cove Princess Doll.
Thank you for looking at the world of Barbie dolls with me today. I hope that you learned something, no matter how small (like that Barbie told girls to stop eating in 1963 as weightloss advice). Tomorrow, I'll be exploring the world of Cartoon Network.