By CARLY SOLTESZ
Barbie is no stranger to me.
She was at all the sleepovers and birthdays growing up, and for a time she was on my wall in the form of a giant decal (that I ripped down when I suddenly decided I didn’t want her to watch me sleep).
I can’t pinpoint it to any one particular moment in my life, but Barbie suddenly ceased to exist in my household, and it was my idea to donate my small collection to two little girls whose family lost everything in a house fire.
I remember being happy that I could help someone in need in my community, and I was happy for myself that I could finally be rid of them.
My mother told me I cleansed myself from all things Barbie early, several years before the rest of my peer group, so I was able to avoid the disproportionate body ideals that seemed to be instilled among my friends when puberty hit.
However, I did experience puberty the same as other young girls and went to school with some pretty hateful children. They didn’t have the guts to say anything directly to my face or the girls I hung out with (as a bigger young girl, you had to act tough and stick together) but bullying as a tween girl is an art form and never getting caught is the ultimate first-place ribbon.
So when Ashley Graham, a long-time role model for me, gained popularity in the mainstream media, I was elated. There was a model that looked more like me than all the other ones on the magazine covers and TV ads. Yes, I looked up to women such as Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones, both hilarious women who didn’t look like the typical actresses on TV, but Graham is famous for her appearance, not her comedy writing/acting skills.
Then, the company Mattel – the creators of Barbie – created a doll in Graham’s likeness, right down to the thick thighs that she demanded lack a so-called “thigh gap,” which is part of the Curvy, Petite and Tall collection developed by Mattel to expand their boundaries and reach out to girls and women of all body types and skin colours.
The collection was launched in January and includes a range of seven skin tones, 22 eye colours and 24 hairstyles. While we can’t buy a replica of Graham just yet, the increase of the dolls’ body types appeal to a greater number of Barbie aficionados.
Barbie has also launched an initiative called the Barbie Sheroes program, which has created one-of-a-kind dolls to honor groundbreaking women including director Ava DuVernay, actress Zendaya Coleman, gymnast Gabby Douglas and ballerina Misty Copeland. Copeland’s doll was put into production and is available now, and DuVernay’s was released last year after huge demand, but is sold out. Graham says if there’s enough interest, Mattel may make her doll.
“We need to work together to redefine the global image of beauty and continue to push for a more inclusive world,” Graham said in a statement. “I’m thrilled Barbie has not only evolved their product, but also has continued to honour women who are pushing boundaries. It’s an honour to be immortalized in plastic.”
“(Graham) challenges the conversation around body norms, and we think that’s a really important message for girls,” Lisa McKnight, senior vice-president for Mattel’s Barbie brand, told USA Today regarding the company’s decision to model a Barbie after Graham.
I am ecstatic that the school-aged girls and women today have someone like Graham to look up to – a glamorous but down-to-earth woman in an incredibly demanding industry, being proud of and confident in her size and her brand. While I had some very good friends in high school and different classes with a nicer peer group, there was still the unacknowledged rule about the thin girls shopping together for the perfect prom dress and the bigger teens forming friendships over how uncomfortable they felt in uniform pleats. This no longer has to be the case. More and more women and men, as well as popular brands, are speaking out in support of body positivity and equality for all sizes, shapes and colours of individuals.
“They’re seeing somebody who appreciates the things about their own bodies that haven’t been celebrated, like cellulite and back fat,” Graham, an advocate for the 50 per cent of American women who wear a size 14 or larger, told the Cut. “These women never had a curvy role model growing up who not only looked like them but was also outspoken about what they go through.”
While unveiling her look-alike, Graham proudly announced: “Now every girl does look like Barbie … It’s not an unattainable thing. Now, they can say, ‘That’s my Barbie. I look like that one’.”
These initiatives launched by Mattel – a company that plays far too huge a role in young girls’ and women’s self-esteem — still won’t stop the trolls of the internet hiding behind their keyboards, or the mean women laughing about their heavy counterparts at the gym (looking at you, Dani Mathers!), but it’s certainly a good place to start.