Fat Barbie

Hell froze over last week when Mattel introduced Fat Barbie. They’re calling her “curvy Barbie,” but, as she looks like she went from a size 0 to a size 12 overnight, I’m calling her “Fat Barbie.” To say this marks a point of departure from Mattel’s 57-year-old cornerstone brand is an understatement. Moms have been calling for a fashion doll that more accurately reflects the proportions of real women since the dawn of the feminist movement in the 1960s. But their wishes have always fallen on Mattel’s deaf ears, and each year Barbie appeared more sexualized than the year before. To be sure, Mattel defended its icon against charges of being a poor role model by giving her an increasing number of professions. Over the years, Barbie has been an astronaut, veterinarian, doctor, and even President. But she has also been a hair stylist, princess, and fairy. And her principal profession has always been that of a fashion model, forever subject to the male gaze.

Mattel’s long-standing tag line, “We girls can do anything, right Barbie?” continued to ring false as the number of model, princess, and fairy barbies continued to outnumber the odd astronaut and president thrown into the mix. And that shouldn’t be very much of a surprise. Those princesses and models sold like hotcakes. Little girls had long been instructed that their worth lie principally in their physical rather than cognitive attributes. Of course, we cannot lay the blame for this solely on the doorstep of Mattel. But Mattel’s marketing machine did its part to reinforce what little girls had always been taught by society at large: You are what you look like.

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Fat Barbie

I find it interesting that Fat Barbie comes close on the heels of 2014’s Sports Illustrated Barbie, through which Mattel vehemently defended its iconic busty, anorexic fashion model. Equating Barbie with Sports Illustrated models was a slap in the face to the growing ranks of Barbie-denouncing moms. The SI swimsuit model is the very embodiment of anti-feminist sentiment. Her existence confirmed to concerned mothers everywhere what they had suspected all along: Barbie was the embodiment of Sex with a capital “S”–and the kind of sex of men’s misogynistic fantasies at that.

In what seemed like a emphatic slap in the face of feminists everywhere, Mattel adopted the hashtag #unapologetic as its marketing campaign for the swimsuit-clad, blonde-haired, blue-eyed model. “As a legend herself, and under constant criticism about her body and how she looks, posing in the issue gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done, and be #unapologetic,” Mattel stated in its press release. Take that, feminists. You may hate Barbie’s body, but it’s here to stay. And we’re going to shove it in your face in the most misogynistic way possible. Fuck you.

 

It’s no surprise that this created a backlash among the feminist set, which is what Mattel probably wanted. You can’t buy the kind of coverage that accompanied Barbie’s debut as an SI model. Everyone media outlet from CNN to The New York Times fell over themselves interviewing Mattel’s media machine and angry feminists everywhere. The clear winner? Mattel. Their SI model sold out in no time. Again, fuck you, feminists.

But wait. Such a bold move to position Barbie as an in-your-face anti-feminist icon reeked not a little of desperation. When Sports Illustrated Barbie made her debut, Barbie sales were tanking. In January 2014, Mattel’s Barbie sales were on a downward spiral. Barbie sales plummeted 20% from 2012 to 2014, and they continued to fall last year. In fact, Barbie sales have been down for four consecutive years now. Heads have rolled in Mattel’s executive suite as new talent with new ideas have tried to save the brand that was once the envy of toy makers everywhere.

So how do we reconcile SI Barbie with Fat Barbie, which appeared just two years later? Simple. Being unapologetic about her body didn’t do a damned thing for Barbie’s sales. So let’s give the hollering feminists what they’ve asked for all along and make a Barbie that actually looks like a real woman. What the hell. It’s not like things can get much worse.

Other companies had already beaten Mattel to the punch. In 2014, Nickolay Lamm launched “Lammily,” a realistically proportioned fashion doll, after a successful crowdfunding campaign to create a Barbie alternative. “Lammily” sold out on her first run, and she’s attracted a large following. An African-American Lammily is currently in the works.

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Lammily

Mattel’s marketing campaign for Fat Barbie is the polar opposite of that used to market Sports Illustrated Barbie. Whereas Mattel declared that SI Barbie unapologetically owned her busty, skinny, leggy body, the same company is now telling us that Barbies come in all shapes and sizes, and that should be celebrated. In a video Mattel released to introduce the dolls, a bespectacled little redheaded girl declares, “It’s so important for Barbies to look different. You know, like the real people in the world.”

“Curvy” isn’t the only new body Mattel has given its iconic doll. The company is also debuting “tall” and “petite” variations. But those latter two will be lost in the shuffle in the media frenzy currently buzzing around Fat Barbie. It’s an admirable effort to put Fat Barbie in with a mix of other alternative body types, and it gives the appearance that Mattel isn’t really caving on changing Barbie’s proportions from one type to another. They’re just giving girls a few more options. And, oh yeah, one of them is fat.

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I predict that Mattel’s Fat Barbie will likely get a positive reception in the media. The coverage that I’ve read thus far all echo the same “it’s about time” sentiment. And, of course, it is about time. It’s fucking overdue. But will finally joining the 21st century revive Mattel’s Barbie sales? Will little girls who have been forever conditioned to perceive thinner bodies as more desirable bodies voluntarily reach for Fat Barbie?

Sadly, probably not.

 

 

 

19 thoughts on “Fat Barbie

  1. As an experiment, to please myself as an adult Barbie enthusiast, I bought a Barbie last year of each of the new types. Well, the tall Barbie has the strangest build and is hard to dress in anything other than a pair of shorts or a long sloppy skirt or halter dress. The feet are hard to do much with, either…you can’t glam her up, in spite of her glowing brown skin and cinnamon red hot curled hair, two features I love. The curvy doll (yah, she’s fat Barbie to me too) is hard to dress flatteringly in anything. It’s pregnant teenager look or nothing. I am both tall and kinda fat (and was as a kid, too), and neither of those dolls are much fun. And those flat feet again on fat Barbie…The petite and regular build dolls are just fine; easy to dress and style without making stupid compromises. But as a kid of the 60s, I do know I would not have liked tall or fat Barbie at all. Kids now? I don’t know. Even as a tomboyish kid I craved beauty in a doll, something lovely to hold, and man, those two exaggerated form Barbies wouldn’t been it for me. I just wanted something beautiful more than anything. If kids today like these dolls, I am happy for them, and I love that their parents care…but I just wanted to offer another perspective, from another time! Consider it time travel

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  2. I love curvy barbie. I think that most girls who relate to this doll would rather refer to her as “curvy”. Using the word “fat” re-enforces the stereotype that heavier girls are less attractive.

    I have already begun making clothes for curvy and I’m having a great time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree with you. I used the term “fat” completely tongue-in-cheek in response to Mattel standing behind their “Sports Illustrated” Barbie two years ago and now telling us that Barbie is beautiful in all sizes. Curvy Barbie is “fat” by Mattel’s historic standards and is an extreme contradiction of the company’s 50-year refusal to expand Barbie’s definition of beauty.

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  3. I am in total agreement with Lisa. Barbie is a doll. Something to be played with. I never aspired to look like my doll. Growing up, I loved the make believe world she took me to! That being said, I happen to love the new variety of body styles Barbie has introduced. Not because of the body image it gives me, but because I am a collector who plays with my dolls. I pose them in my dioramas and use them to tell stories. Having dolls of different races and sizes makes story telling more interesting. I own all kinds of dolls in all shapes, sizes, ages and colors (albeit all in 1:6 scale). I have Lammily, Big Beautiful Dasia, Fashion Royalty, Barbie (of course), Prettie Girls and Mixis. I own curvacious Phicen, Triad and other action figures. All to add diversity to my collection, play and story telling! I will own the new curvy, petite and tall Barbies soon too! I do think this is a good step for Mattel to make. If only they also had articulation!

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  4. Hmmm…wasn’t the original Barbie the curvy Barbie?

    I scope out the Barbies at Goodwill from time to time, and interestingly, the ones in perfect condition so far have been graduate Barbie, professional Barbie(s) and minority Barbie(s). We’ll see how Fat Barbie does when she ends up there…hopefully that takes some time.

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  5. As a formerly fat kid who was given the Barbie in the striped swimsuit as a less-than-gentle nudge in the ‘right’ direction by a mother whose highest aspiration for me was to marry a rich guy, I loved this. Bravo.

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  6. I love your article , especially the part of Mattel telling the feminists to go …well get over themselves. As a person who likes variety, I think on the one hand, it is a good thing to mix it up a bit. On the other hand- people or women who think kids get their body image from a toy have serious issues. I’m 50 and played with Barbie with my aunt who is 60, and we never at any point in time, thought we should look like Barbie- it was all about the fashions, the dreamhouse, dating Ken, etc. What an idiotic thought for anyone to think that a child does not get their body image from their environment at home- family- friends, mom, dad, teachers, etc. That’s my point. sigh. It’s a toy for goodness sake. On another hand, I am glad that hideous Lammily is having her thunder stolen. The curvey or fat Barbie is a whole lot more attractive than that doll with those vulgar period and cellulite stickers. I always thought that doll was a tad ‘chunky’ and not what I would call athletic even though it was billed that way. For us diorama builders, it means more variety in our scenes, with a variety of people populating the diners, boutiques, like a ‘real’ life. If they would add articulation to those curvey girls, I would be over the top.

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  7. I’m so sad that it’s taken so much time and a drop in sales for this to happen. I grew up surrounded by skinny, leggy, long-haired fashion dolls, not only Barbie but Sindy, Pippa, Daisy and more. I loved their beauty and glamour but as much as I loved them there was a core of sadness in me. No one ever wanted to play with the brunettes. Not even a skinny brunette was as popular as the blondes. I was a plain, chubby brunette and my fashion dolls sewed the seed of an inferiority complex inside me that it took years to exorcise.

    I love all kinds of dolls, I adored my fashion dolls, Barbie included, and I still find escaping into their world deeply therapeutic, but I think it’s more than time for every little girl to know that in that enchanted land of beautiful clothes, exciting adventures and magical colours it’s not just the skinny blondes who can be gorgeous and glamorous. That’s a lesson that applies to any land you’re in, and you’re never too young to learn it.

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  8. Whereas I like the idea, the theory, that dolls offered are now representative of a variety of body types, clothes look better on tall, slender bodies that are straight of line, not curvy. Fashion dolls wear cool clothes, that’s the play, get the doll, buy the clothes, put the clothes on the doll. Play a bit, change the doll. Ad infinitum. Play involves different activities, and Henry David Thoreau notwithstanding, doll buying people embrace enterprises that require new clothes.

    I design for dolls, and back in the day, when Tonner first released Emme, a healthy plus sized model doll, I applauded the difference. Well, not that many people are willing to accept a fashion doll with a plus sized body. And Tonner made some really lame outfits, and the doll’s sales did not thrive. There may have been other problems with the person and the line, I didn’t follow the story that closely, but the doll ran for a couple of years and disappeared.

    It’s probably good for the psyche to say we’re all beautiful in our own way, but in nature, the animals with the desirable genetics will win. Peacocks parade and pea hens choose ’em. The idea that certain traits are more attractive than others, is just part of the picture. Not fair, just the way things work.

    I like diversity in my friends and associates, and I embrace the idea of it in the market place, but I don’t think a Barbie who is overweight and curvy is going to be able to sustain an audience after the initial offering.

    Maybe if we can change human nature, it would work? Look, young people today are a whole lot less prejudiced than Boomers like me, so maybe there’s hope. Maybe.

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    1. “…but in nature, the animals with the desirable genetics will win.” Not necessarily. All that is required for genetic survival is passing on DNA into a new generation. Looks are only a part of this. Peacocks may rely on the beauty of their feathers, but ducks pretty much just gang rape to accomplish the same thing.

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  9. Interesting. I have loved Barbies nearly all my life; and to be honest, their figures were inconsequential and always have been. I collect some of them now, and intend to buy at least one of the curvy models, and perhaps some of the others. I like the diversity, and hope they succeed.

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  10. ” And her principal profession has always that of a fashion model, forever subject to the male gaze.”
    Is this really an accurate statement? I always thought that fashion models (however unrealistic they are in Body mass) were meant to be “hangers” for the clothing and as such wouldn’t the appeal be Primarily to women ? While I may be an exception, I always have thought that voluptuous was a vastly more look than Barbie.
    Not trying to be argumentative. Just curious. I always enjoy your posts and since I’m on Prego daily , I appreciate the notices of the new ones.

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  11. It is really not a fat body. Even when I was 115 lbs my body was huge next to my friends that did not have curves. Some of us have buts and thighs. I applaud the new curvy Barbie. I also love the new Tall Barbie. One of my best friends is over 6′ and this really says that she too belongs.

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    1. I agree that this body is not really fat. I also think it’s ridiculous to call a size 12 fat. Not everyone can have a flat waist, no hips, and thighs that don’t touch. Even people who exercise.

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      1. I totally agree with you. I used the term “fat” completely tongue-in-cheek in response to Mattel standing behind their “Sports Illustrated” Barbie two years ago and now telling us that Barbie is beautiful in all sizes. Curvy Barbie is “fat” by Mattel’s historic standards and is an extreme contradiction of the company’s 50-year refusal to expand Barbie’s definition of beauty.

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  12. I think it’s…underwhelming. However, being 6′ myself, I am very excited for the tall Barbie. I do think that means something – maybe more (children) will see something and say “Wow…that…that is ME!” I mean, it got me excited and I’m 31. I was known as the Barbie girl, I had a basement FULL of them. I’m not a huge fan of curvy/fat Barbie. Frankly, I grew up in a time where we were told the difference between make believe and real life and Barbie was make believe. Of COURSE she was a body we couldn’t attain naturally. It … oh well. We didn’t sob about it and get depressed. I just played with her and she was…NOT something I looked to to BE. She didn’t have a vagina, she WAS NOT a human. She was a TOY. I think these ‘feminists’ making her something of a holy grail…a beacon…a sort of ‘what we should be’ should be actually ashamed of themselves. How about you just teach your kids the difference between make believe and real life…and kids will get that. We don’t look like Gumby and yet kids played with him and didn’t sob and go on rants that we can’t pull our arms 3 feet from our bodies. Make. Believe.

    I love your article. On point. I’m still looking forward to some of it. But…I think it’s a novelty. Barbie is Barbie. This is just…kind of sad, and too little too late, in my opinion. But I could, and I hope, I’m wrong. Since it doesn’t seem that Barbie as a “role model” is going to go away anytime soon.

    Good luck Barbie. That’s a huge ‘order’ to fill. Yikes.

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    1. So, if I understand this correctly, you’re “very excited” about the new tall Barbie – because you are 6′. That makes sense – You’re tall, and while you fully understand the difference between reality and make-believe, you see a doll that reflects something about you which it didn’t before and it makes you happy. Yet, you’re “not a huge fan of curvy/fat Barbie”. I get it. You don’t see yourself in *that* doll. But, if you acknowledge feeling happy about the tall Barbie, shouldn’t it stand to reason that others are likely feeling the same about curvy Barbie?

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