New Barbie doll with Down syndrome is released

After being criticised for not representing "real women", Mattel is hoping to help all children feel more represented with the release of a new Barbie with Down Syndrome, as part of its more inclusive range of dolls

Mattel launched its first Barbie doll in 1959, featuring pale skin, incredibly long legs, a tiny waist and blonde shiny hair.
After decades of being an icon and a staple toy for millions of children, campaigns in recent years have pointed out that the traditional Barbie did not represent "real women's" bodies and were not relatable for people with disabilities. Academics in Australia actually suggested that the likelihood of a woman having a similar body shape to Barbie was 1 in 100,000.

In 2016, Mattel released Curvy Barbie, Tall Barbie and Petite Barbie, as well as a wide range of skin tones to increase their diversity. They went a step further in 2017, releasing their first doll with vitiligo, a doll with no hair and a doll with a prosthetic leg. Since then, they've released other dolls representing people with disabilities and Barbie with Down syndrome is the latest one of them.

The company had worked closely with the US National Down Syndrome Society to ensure the doll accurately represented a person with Down syndrome. The doll has a shorter frame and a longer torso and its face is rounder with smaller ears, a flat nasal bridge and almond-shaped eyes which can all be characteristics of women who have the genetic condition.

The doll's dress is covered in butterflies with yellow and blue colours which are associated with Down syndrome awareness. The doll also wears a necklace with three chevrons representing the three copies of the 21st chromosome. The doll also comes with ankle foot orthotics, which many children with Down syndrome use for support.

Ellie Goldstein, the first model with Down syndrom to feature in major international campaigns for brands such as Adidas and Gucci, helped launch the new doll. She said she felt "happy" and "overwhelmed" to see a doll with Down's syndrome, adding "people need to see more people like me out there in the world and not be hidden away". Ellie was revealed as one of five cover stars of the latest edition of British Vogue, a huge step forward for visibility for the community.

Executive vice president and global head of Barbie and Dolls at Mattel, Lisa McKnight, said the brand's goal was "to enable all children to see themselves in Barbie" and "encourage children to play with dolls who do not look like themselves… [and so] teach understanding and build a greater sense of empathy, leading to a more accepting world".

The hope is for this new doll to open conversations on Down syndrome and show how truly amazing this community is.

Mattel is not the only toy giant who's working on being more inclusive. In recent years, Playmobil launched a fully accessible schoolhouse with a student in a wheelchair and Lego Friends recently released a line of eight characters with a range of disabilities, some visible and some invisible. Lego chose not to name the disabilities but instead gave each character attributes of different disabilities, including anxiety, autism and ADHD. 

Léa's takeaway

Like most kids, I spent hours and hours playing with my Barbie dolls so it's so great to see them look more and more like regular people with curves, different hair colours and styles and disabilities we can relate to.

Writing this blog I came across "Toys Like Me", a wonderful non-profit encouraging toy companies to be more inclusive in their range of products. The organisation was created by Rebecca Atskinson, mum of a disabled daughter who went viral after showing her attempt of making her daughter's toys more inclusive.

So if you ever believe that you can't make a difference, think again and speak up as this is how we'll make the world a much better and positive place to live in!

Blog Author: Léa Gorniak - May 1st 2023

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