Barbie introduces its first doll with Down syndrome in new Fashionistas lineup
Ever since she made her debut in 1959, Barbie has been both celebrated for her wide range of careers and criticized for her unrealistic body image. As the first mass-produced doll toy with adult features, Barbie has been an iconic part of childhood imaginary play for decades despite her controversy, and as the hype around the new Barbie feature film shows, she’s still a favorite among fans.
One way Barbie has managed to stay relevant is by evolving with the times. In her earliest years, she defied the 50s housewife expectation of women and showed girls that they could have any job they wanted. Since then, Mattel has broadened Barbie’s initial blonde bombshell look to allow more girls to see themselves in Barbie’s features.
For instance, meet one of the newest Barbie Fashionistas—the first Barbie to have Down syndrome.
Designed in close collaboration with the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), the doll was made to celebrate individuals with Down syndrome. The NDSS had input in her design from start to finish, with the goal of having her look and accessories be reflective of the Down syndrome community.
Some of the features that are unique to this doll are a shorter frame and longer torso, a rounder face, smaller ears, a flatter nasal bridge and sligthly slanted, almond-shaped eyes—specifications designed to make Barbie more illustrative of women with Down syndrome. Even the palms of this Barbie’s hands are purposefully designed, with a single line on the palm, which is a characteristic often associated with those with Down syndrome (but can also be seen in people with other conditions).
— Canadian Down Syndrome Society (@Canadian Down Syndrome Society)
The doll’s dress features butterflies and yellow and blue colors, which are associated with Down syndrome awareness. And her pink pendant necklace shape represents the three copies of the 21st chromosome, which is what causes the syndrome’s signature characteristics.
“The three chevrons, or arrows, are a symbol that unites the Down syndrome community and are meant to represent ‘the lucky few’ who have someone with Down syndrome in their life,” shares Mattel.
Finally, since some children with Down syndrome wear orthotics to support their feet and ankles, the doll has been fashioned with a pair of pink ankle foot orthotics (AFOs) to match her outfit.
This Barbie is one of a handful of newly-released Fashionista dolls, each of which expands Barbie’s range of representation with an array of features. It even includes a Ken doll with a prosthetic leg.
Mattel says Barbie is the most inclusive doll line on the market, with “over 175 looks offering a variety of eye colors, hair colors and textures, body types, disabilities and fashions to tell more stories.” As Lisa McKnight, Mattel’s Executive Vice President and Global Head of Barbie & Dolls, points out, not only does this Barbie give kids with Down syndrome a Barbie that represents them, but it also reflects the world all kids live in.
“As the most diverse doll line on the market, Barbie plays an important role in a child’s early experiences, and we are dedicated to doing our part to counter social stigma through play,” McKnight said in a statement. “Our goal is to enable all children to see themselves in Barbie, while also encouraging children to play with dolls who do not look like themselves. Doll play outside of a child’s own lived experience can teach understanding and build a greater sense of empathy, leading to a more accepting world. We are proud to introduce a Barbie doll with Down syndrome to better reflect the world around us and further our commitment to celebrating inclusion through play.”
Three cheers for Barbie in all her diverse attributes, abilities and ambitions, and kudos to those who keep trying to make her world more inclusive and representative of everyone.
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