If you consider the Barbie dolls you played with back in your childhood, they probably all took on a similar form. Big blonde hair, deep-set blue eyes and a heart-shaped face, with a wholly unfathomable body shape that defied science. Yes, that was the Barbie most of us knew – creating unconscious complexes for young girls since 1959.
Sure, there were a few exceptions amongst Barbie’s fictional circle – Christie, the first African-American doll to join Barbie’s crew (until we met her boyfriend Steven who was, of course, also Black) or her close buddy Teresa, said to be Latinx. Still, when you dashed into the toy store and found yourself inside the treasured Barbie aisle, most of the dolls staring back from within their plastic prisons embodied their figurehead – white, wealthy, blonde and always wearing hot pink.
Like a lot of aspects of our culture, looking back it’s baffling to believe that we offered young girls such a singular view of the woman they should grow up wanting to be. Employing a 2021 lens to the influential Barbie brand demonstrates that although the doll looks relatively indistinguishable from her initial form some 60 years later, like a lot of her toy contemporaries she has, in fact, not aged well.
Thankfully, these days it seems toy giants Mattel tend to agree, leading the company behind Barbie seek to offer the next generation a whole host of other women to look up to. Their Inspiring Women series spotlights and invites history-making women into the Barbie hall of fame, with their latest inductee being Dr Maya Angelou.
Dr Angelou, a celebrated Black writer, civil rights activist and poet, will join the likes of Florence Nightingale, Frida Kahlo and Rosa Parks, who have all been turned into Barbie dolls designed to educate and encourage young girls. Dr Angelou’s doll sees the author’s miniature replicata wearing her traditional head wrap and printed dress, while holding a copy of her boundary-breaking book, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Frankly, we love to see it!