Molly Jackson: Barbie’s Back! Or… Barbies’ Back?
February is always a busy month for me. With the start of the year behind us, I am faced with planning and organizing for the spring. The big event for my winter/spring is Toy Fair in a couple weeks.
Yes, Toy Fair is a major industry event that gives the buyers and press a chance to see what’s coming for the year in the toy world. Now, every year I’m excited to go but this year, I admit, I am definitely more excited than ever before. It took a little while to discover the reason, but it is pretty simple. It’s because of Barbie.
In case you missed the announcement last week, Barbie revealed their line expansion of new body types and racial markers for their doll line. Now you can buy a curvy, tall, or petite doll. You can buy multiple skin types, hair types, or eye colors. Barbie is finally showing that there is more than one type of woman. It may seem like a small change but pairing those image changes with the new career choices and this Barbie would look down on the toys of my generation.
I was never a huge Barbie fan as a kid, but I played with them and I always recognized their cultural significance. I still own some collectible Barbies, including my Star Trek Barbies. But to have Barbie, and by extension Mattel, recognize me and millions of other types of women? That is huge in my book.
The past year or so has seen toy manufacturers start having to listen to their consumers. It has also included campaigns to add women into toy line ups. I personally was part of the We Want Widow flash mobs, where we cosplayed as Black Widow in public to show toy manufacturers that she should be included more in Avengers toy sets. More recently, we got to watch manufacturers stumble over themselves as they rushed to put out Rey toys for the new Star Wars movie. They were shocked and surprised that kids and adults wanted to play as the lead role in the movie.
Fast forward to this year’s Toy Fair. Mattel, one of the major toy companies, has updated one of their oldest toy lines to bring it into a new age. Toy companies like I Am Elemental are still going strong among the sea of other options. In case you don’t know, I Am Elemental is a line of female superheroes action figures based on female figures from history. There will be a panel discussing if the gender divide in toys is justified. The best part is that the toy makers will be there to listen and hopefully learn.
It is true that I might be overly optimistic. The changes won’t be happening tomorrow, or probably even this year. But there is a chance that this change is real and is making an impact right now on the toy world. Encouraging the next generation of women through toys would give us a stronger and better generation to take us into the future. I have to hope that this mindset will stick and if it does, I will be happy to support them. And also play with their toys.