Throw them a curve

Bar­bie gets new body in bid to win back fans,

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - MAY WAR­REN STAFF REPORTER

Af­ter al­most 60 years, Bar­bie is fi­nally get­ting some re­lief from her strict run­way diet, and a body that looks a lit­tle more like the rest of ours.

Mat­tel Inc. will start of­fer­ing the iconic plas­tic doll in three new body types — tall, curvy and pe­tite — as well as seven skin tones, 22 eye colours and 24 hair­styles.

The move comes af­ter years of crit­i­cism for be­ing un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive of real women’s bod­ies and the di­ver­sity of the lit­tle girls, and some­times boys, who play with them.

The brand is also strug­gling to re­main com­pet­i­tive in a mar­ket full of higher tech toys, as well as dolls that al­ready em­brace a more re­al­is­tic physique, such as the Amer­i­can Girl dolls (also owned by Mat­tel).

Sales for Bar­bie, Mat­tel’s big­gest brand, fell 14 per cent in the most re­cently re­ported quar­ter.

“We are ex­cited to lit­er­ally be chang­ing the face of the brand — th­ese new dolls rep­re­sent a line that is more re­flec­tive of the world girls see around them — the va­ri­ety in body type, skin tones and style al­lows girls to find a doll that speaks to them,” said Eve­lyn Mazzocco, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent and global gen­eral man­ager for Bar­bie, in a press re­lease.

Mat­tel did not im­me­di­ately re­turn the Star’s re­quests for fur­ther com­ment.

Sara Pa­cella, the mom of 4-year-old twins and a Toronto par­ent­ing blog­ger, called the new line a “step in the right di­rec­tion.”

“I think they need to do that to stay com­pet­i­tive,” she said. “This is some­thing that I’m sur­prised they didn’t do a long ago, not even just be­cause it’s so­cially re­spon­si­ble but be­cause it makes sense from a busi­ness per­spec­tive.”

Pa­cella hopes the con­cept can be a long-term part of Bar­bie’s brand, “as op­posed to, look, we’re do­ing this and we’re go­ing to run this cam­paign for a year and it’s go­ing to dis­ap­pear again.”

You can still brush her hair and un­dress her ev­ery­where, and the orig­i­nal Bar­bie, with her pin-thin legs and shiny blond locks, will still be avail­able.

Lu­cie Fol­lett, co-founder and cre­ative di­rec­tor of Arklu, a Bri­tish com­pany that makes an al­ter­na­tive to Bar­bie, called Lot­tie, who wears sneak­ers and goes fos­sil gath­er­ing, said the tim­ing of Bar­bie’s new look is in­ter­est­ing.

“You’ve got the whole back­drop of them hav­ing lost th­ese re­ally lu­cra­tive li­cences and see­ing the Bar­bie sales go into free fall,” she said over the phone from Nurem­berg toy fair in Ger­many.

In the fall of 2014, Mat­tel lost the doll li­cence for Dis­ney’s Frozen and Princess brands.

The com­pany is rec­og­niz­ing the value of lis­ten­ing to what par­ents want, Fol­lett added.

“But I would also ar­gue that it’s a very, very small step on their part,” she said. “The rest of the range isn’t that rep­re­sen­ta­tive and I think there’s an aw­ful lot of mar­ket­ing gloss that’s in­volved.”

Bar­bie is not the only doll that’s been crit­i­cized for be­ing un­re­al­is­tic.

Some par­ents have even taken mat­ters into their own hands, giv­ing crafty “make-un­ders” to dolls such as Bratz, in re­sponse to fears that they are hy­per­sex­u­al­ized.

Jen­nifer Ierullo, a 28-year-old Scar­bor­ough Bar­bie col­lec­tor, wel­comes the ad­di­tion of a curvier Bar­bie.

Grow­ing up in the ’90s, she never rec­og­nized her­self in the stick-thin dolls she played with, and as a plus­sized woman she’s de­lighted to fi­nally see a fuller-fig­ured fig­urine.

She plans to add one of the new Bar­bies to her own shelf, along­side Cher and char­ac­ters from The Wizard of Oz.

Ierullo said she’s also al­ways felt her dolls weren’t re­flec­tive of what she would see at school or on the streets in the di­verse GTA.

“You’re not go­ing to get on a bus and have a bus full of white peo­ple with blond hair,” she said with a laugh.

“Hope­fully this will stick and kids will get the chance to ex­pe­ri­ence other types of peo­ple.”

BAR­BIE ME­DIA/MAT­TEL

Bar­bie’s new line in­cludes three new body types — tall, curvy and pe­tite.

Su­perthin dolls have been the tar­get of crit­i­cism from par­ents for years.

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