From hearing aids to vitiligo, Mattel bets on inclusiveness with Barbie and Ken dolls

The Barbie lineup now includes dolls with chronic illnesses and disabilities, such as the ones Mattel is launching this week: the first Barbie with hearing aids and the first Ken with vitiligo

Published: May 12, 2022 05:02:03 PM IST
Updated: May 12, 2022 05:16:51 PM IST

The pop culture icon is now available in a wheelchair, with glasses, with a removable prosthetic leg, as well as with skin conditions. Image: Courtesy of Mattel©

A stereotype taken to the extreme for more than half a century, Barbie has been working for nearly six years now to shatter all the clichés that helped bring her fame to begin with. The Barbie lineup now includes dolls with chronic illnesses and disabilities, such as the ones Mattel is launching this week: the first Barbie with hearing aids and the first Ken with vitiligo.

The ultra-blonde doll with flawless skin and an unrealistic, even impossible waistline and figure is history; now the most famous doll on the planet is all about embracing a more inclusive representation of the female population, while combating sexist clichés linked to gender, skin color, or, more globally, to an 'ideal' vision of beauty. And she's not alone in this mission, since Ken dolls are also breaking with certain stereotypes, albeit somewhat more slowly. As a result, children from the Z and Alpha generations have been able to discover dolls with much more varied body shapes, hairstyles, skin and hair colors.

Not content to simply embrace beauty diversity, Barbie is also looking to rectify a major oversight—the fact that disabilities have not been addressed in the line of dolls. The pop culture icon is now available in a wheelchair, with glasses, with a removable prosthetic leg, as well as with skin conditions. While there still may be some ways to go, the brand now boasts that it offers more than 175 dolls with various silhouettes, skin tones or disabilities through its Barbie Fashionistas line in order to be as representative as possible and for kids to be able to see themselves reflected in these dolls, the brand outlines.

It is in this range that Mattel is presenting a brand new doll: the first Barbie equipped with a hearing aid, the result of work carried out with leading educational audiology practitioner, Dr Jen Richardson. "As an educational audiologist with over 18 years of experience working in hearing loss advocacy, it's inspiring to see those who experience hearing loss reflected in a doll. I'm beyond thrilled for my young patients to see and play with a doll who looks like them," outlined the health professional. And to complete the range, the brand also offers the first Ken with vitiligo—a Barbie with the same condition has been available since 2020.

The full line that, as Mattel's Global Head of Barbie Dolls Lisa McKnight pointed out, allows children to play with dolls that look like them and better corresponds to the world around them, will be available in June in the US and in other regions in the following months.

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