I’m a Barbie girl, living in a more diverse Barbie world

In recent years, the iconic Barbie doll has undergone a remarkable transformation, evolving from a one-dimensional representation of beauty

Australian actress Margot Robbie, known for her powerful performances in movies like "I, Tonya" and "Birds of Prey," recently expressed her support for the move towards greater diversity with Barbie. Robbie, who will be starring as Barbie in the latest live-action film, revealed that she initially hesitated to accept the role. Her apprehension stemmed from a concern that the Barbie brand may present a narrow, unrealistic image of what women should aspire to be. 

Robbie's concerns are not unfounded. For decades, Barbie embodied a standard of beauty that many young girls felt compelled to meet. With her unattainable proportions and limited representation, she unintentionally perpetuated a harmful and unrealistic beauty standard. However, in recent years, Mattel, the toy company behind Barbie, has taken significant steps to rectify this. 

The first wheelchair using Barbie doll was released in 1997. She was not a version of Barbie herself but another character, Wheelchair Becky, a doll designed to be a friend of Barbie. The initial model encountered a series of challenges, as the first version of Wheelchair Becky was unable to fit her wheelchair into Barbie's Dream House, and her hair frequently got caught in the wheels of her chair. This highlights that even in the seemingly flawless world of Barbie, accessibility remained an ongoing and everyday issue. Mattel has addressed these issues and more recently launched the first black Barbie to use a wheelchair, and is featured in Mattel's Fashionista line, which is a part of the company's ongoing attempt to create more inclusive toys. This black Barbie doll who has natural hair and uses a wheelchair also comes with a ramp that fits inside Barbie Dreamhouses. The latest doll, which launched in June 2020 also received praise from many after its launch as the wheelchair is made without handles, which is a lot less medical looking piece of equipment.  

By introducing a wheelchair-using Barbie, Mattel has not only become more representative of people with disabilities but has also taken a stand for inclusivity. Featuring a doll in a wheelchair sends a powerful message to young children, both with and without disabilities. It conveys the idea that physical limitations do not define a person's worth or potential. This move helps to break down barriers and challenges preconceived notions about who can be considered "beautiful" or "successful." 

Caitlyn from Kidz board said; 

"It’s brilliant that Mattel have released a variety of Barbie and Chelsea dolls who use wheelchairs, not only does this teach young children about inclusion and diversity as they play, the ‘Fashionista’ range incorporates accessibility having a ramp included and possibly highlights the issues surrounding access as a wheelchair user too. Playing with Barbie’s throughout childhood brought instant nostalgia for many throughout the decades, myself in the early 2000’s and will continue to do so for years to come. Young children who use wheelchairs at an early age can feel included and seeing Barbie be just like them. We matter. Would be great to see Barbie/Ken showcase a variety of mobility aids in the future too!"

Rebecca who is also on the kidz board added;  

“Seeing yourself in toys helps you not feel alone, gives you validation that it is ok to be disabled and brings happiness because now you can play with toys that look like you, just like how most non disabled children can.” 

The significance of representation cannot be understated. When children see themselves reflected in the dolls they play with, it boosts their self-esteem and validates their experiences. For children with disabilities, a wheelchair-using Barbie provides a sense of belonging and shows that they are seen, valued, and celebrated. It promotes a world where diversity is welcomed and embraced rather than shunned or ignored. 

Moreover, showcasing Barbies with a series of different physical disabilities, helps to normalize disabilities and encourage open conversations about diversity. By engaging in play scenarios with dolls that reflect real-life experiences, children can develop empathy, understanding, and compassion. They learn that differences should be celebrated and appreciated, fostering a more inclusive society. 

Mattel's commitment to diversity aligns with a broader shift in our society's perception of beauty and identity. As more and more people become aware of the harm caused by limited representation in media and popular culture, the demand for inclusivity grows stronger. With Margot Robbie stating that she would not have wanted to be a part of the Barbie movie if Mattel had not embraced diversity, it is evident that both creatives and consumers are demanding more authentic, representative narratives. 

In conclusion, the introduction of a wheelchair-using Barbie is a significant step towards greater diversity and inclusivity. By being more representative of real-life experiences, Barbie becomes a more powerful tool in promoting positive self-image and celebrating the incredible diversity of humanity. Margot Robbie's insistence on embracing diversity highlights the importance of challenging narrow notions of beauty and striving for a more inclusive world. There is still a long way to go with representation and inclusivity but with each new addition to the Barbie lineup, Mattel reinforces the message that regardless of our differences, we all have the right to be seen, accepted, and celebrated for who we are. 

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