2014 was a bad year for Barbie makers, Mattel, as Lego became the most-selling toy company in the world and Disney’s Elsa (from ‘Frozen’) became the most popular doll with girls. The estimated loss for Mattel ran up to $500 million USD. Barbie, who had been complained about for years, was finally dislodged from its top spot. Mattel sat up and took notice, and decided to make changes.
For two years, Mattel worked on the new dolls in complete secret. The project was named ‘Project Dawn’ so that even spouses and family members wouldn’t guess what was going on with Barbie.
In recent years, we’ve seen a desperate attempt by many women to make curvy figures more mainstream. The likes of Kim Kardashian, J-Lo, and Beyonce have pushed their curvy bottoms into television screens and society’s face. In the name of women’s empowerment, once again, one body type has been pushed as the ‘attractive’ one. Dolls like Barbie received a backlash for their thin but voluptuous figures.
As an apparent step towards empowerment, dolls like Elsa overtook Barbie, not because Elsa is curvy (she’s as thin as Barbie) but because she comes with a empowering back story.
But this isn’t the case with Barbie. She was based on a German doll, Lilli, which was a prostitute gag gift given out at bachelor parties (therefore the exaggerated curves). Since then she courted enough controversy – for her breasts, for her voice box that said, “Math class is tough”, and even for Ken. Mattel launched the edgy Monster High dolls as a way to offer alternatives instead of changing Barbie.
The biggest problem with Barbie remained her figure. She can be a doctor or an astronaut, but had remained big-breasted and with arched feet that could only wear heels.
The result of Project Dawn was three more figures for Barbie: petit, curvy and tall. There are also additional skin colors, hair colors, and even hair textures. The feet will now be flat as well as arched.. But a test group of children mostly thought of curvy Barbie as being fat, even if they preferred to use the word ‘chubby’ instead of fat. So how successful will these new dolls be? Kids are getting conditioned at younger and younger ages; how can Mattel battle that?
Ultimately, Barbie is iconic because of her looks and her figure. Will these new dolls really be Barbie? Will children recognized their old doll in her new avatars?
In addition to that, Mattel is sure to face problems with irate parents and children as Barbie’s shoes and clothes are not going to fit every Barbie. The curvy Barbie won’t fit in original Barbie clothes and the petit Barbie can’t wear the tall Barbie’s outfits. With Barbie now having two kinds of feet – arched and flat – even the shoes are going to run into problems.
Already, with the announcement of the new Barbie figures, men have started asking for dad-bod Ken doll.