Since the very first Barbie was introduced by Mattel in 1959, the world-famous doll has kept up to date with the evolving norms and values of contemporary society. The brand has adapted to cultural and social changes, shifting ideals about the role of women, and the growing importance of diversity and inclusivity. A universal fashion icon from her earliest years, Barbie has also been admired for representing an independent and successful career woman. Lisa McKnight is Senior Vice President and Global General Manager for Mattel’s Barbie brand. She began by listing some of the most memorable career moves that Barbie has made in her sixty-year history.
Lisa McKnight (American accent): There are so many iconic Barbies throughout the decades that I can think of. When I think about her careers, I love our Astronaut Barbie from 1965. This was a doll that was created before Neil Armstrong and man went to the moon, which is pretty impressive. Barbie was also a surgeon, not many people know that, in the 70s, and this was, again, a time when women were not necessarily in the operating room. So, we’re very proud of that. In the 80s, late 80s bridging into the 90s, she was a CEO, and this was a time when there were a lot of movies about women breaking through the glass ceiling, and it was very popular in culture.
BEAUTY IN DIVERSITY
Kim Culmone is Senior Vice President of Design. She says that Mattel are committed to creating new Barbies that represent a wider range of skin colours, hair types and body shapes.
Kim Culmone (American accent): Since the launch in 2015 of the most ethnically diverse line that we’ve ever done, the introduction of the body types, we’ve had multiple skin colours, eye colours, hair textures… We’re on a path of continued evolution for the brand in the aesthetic delivery of the doll. We have an amazing new hair fiber that gives us a very natural hair texture for African-American dolls. We’re introducing braids. We have dolls with head to toe freckles. We have many, many different arti-culations of what Barbie can look like, which allows us to help expand our representation of what is beautiful. And Barbie’s position as a cultural icon, this we take very seriously, and being inclusive and representative of the world around us is important to us.
A POSITIVE ROLE MODEL
A recent global initiative led by the Barbie brand encourages young girls all over the world to be more confident in themselves and in their abilities, says McKnight.
Lisa McKnight: So, the Dream Gap Project is a global, multi-year initiative that’s [whose] mission is to break down barriers that are preventing girls from realising their true potential. We uncovered some research that shows that at the age of five – that young – girls start doubting their gender and losing confidence in their abilities. We believe that gender stereotypes and a variety of other causes are contributing to these limiting factors for girls. So, Barbie is committed to funding research to learn more about the root causes behind this behavioral shift.
REFLECTING THE WORLD
And, McKnight says, the key to Barbie’s phenomenal success has been her ability to evolve with the times.
Lisa McKnight: Barbie has stood the test of time because she is timeless and timely. She is always connecting to culture. She is reflecting what girls see around them. She’s a positive role model. And she’s a source of inspiration, so as long as we continue to connect to culture and are as inclusive as possible, as reflective of the world around us as possible, I think Barbie will have the staying power for another sixty years.