It’s about time

Quick Notes:

  • In September 2019, Mattel released a new collection of gender-neutral dolls.

  • The dolls are intended to inspire inclusivity and diversity for young children.

Mattel’s Barbie dolls have always represented feminine beauty. Barbie has inspired generations of children to enter various professions, including engineering, medicine, law, and more. Barbie became a pop culture phenomenon, but today’s dolls look entirely different from the originals that doll creator Ruth Handler released in 1959.

In September 2019, Mattel introduced a new line of gender-neutral dolls called Creatable World. The range allows children to decide the gender expression of the toy themselves. The doll can be accessorized to look like a boy, a girl, neither, or both genders at the same time. It’s up to the child to decide on the gender, not Mattel.

About the new collection

Mattel released six dolls in the Creatable World collection, and each doll is unique in his/her own way. The dolls are available in a variety of skin tones, hair, and clothing options (like the original Barbie doll), and they’re carefully manufactured in order not to identify as a specific gender. For example, the lips aren’t too full, the eyelashes aren’t too long or fluttery, and the jawline isn’t as defined. The dolls don’t feature the signature “Barbie-like” breasts or broad “Ken-like” shoulders.

Each doll comes with two wigs of different lengths and a variety of wardrobe options. Children have the freedom to style the doll with short or long, luscious hair, or in a skirt, pants, or T-shirts. The collection was created to reflect our current culture “as the world continues to celebrate the positive impact of inclusivity,” according to Mattel executive Kim Culmone.

mattel/Instagram

These dolls are unlike anything that has ever been created. They’re intended to be relatable to all children, and they’re “designed specifically to have a youthful gender-neutral appearance,” said Culmone. A child can dress the doll to resemble their own appearance, and that’s the important characteristic of this creation. Children should look at a doll and see a reflection of themselves smiling back at them.

Performing their research

It was a difficult 18-month-long process for Mattel to design the new collection. While creating the dolls, Mattel spoke to over 250 families with children who identify across the gender spectrum. “We talked to them about what they had in dolls currently and what they were looking for,” Culmone remarked. What the researchers found probably wasn’t that surprising.

“The kids didn’t want to be told that boys had to play with cars and girls had to play with dolls,” Culmone said. But for generations, these stereotypical traits have impacted pop culture and the toys children could buy.

“There were a couple of gender-creative kids who told us that they dreaded Christmas Day because they knew whatever they got under the Christmas tree, it wasn’t made for them,” said Monica Dreger, head of consumer insights at Mattel. “This is the first doll that you can find under the tree and see it’s for them because it can be for anyone.”

Being more inclusive

Mattel understands that this new collection might not be for everyone. Culmone remarked, “Some parents may be uncomfortable feeling like the toy is creating a situation where gender will need to be discussed with their child, but that’s a really personal family decision.”

Mattel understands that every child should feel comfortable while playing with a Barbie doll. The Creatable World collection celebrates everyone. After all, the collection’s slogan reads: “A doll line designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in.”

“This line allows all kids to express themselves freely, which is why it resonates so strongly with them,” Culmone remarked. “We’re hopeful Creatable World will encourage people to think more broadly about how all kids can benefit from doll play.”

Mattel isn’t the only company to break down gender barriers. LEGO has started making STEM toys for girls. Target no longer uses signs to label toys for girls and boys. Disney stopped designating boys’ and girls’ labels on Halloween costumes and other accessories. Finally, Amazon no longer uses gender-based categories for toys. Companies are taking a serious step towards inclusivity, and people couldn’t be more thankful.

A deeper dive – Related reading from the 101:

World Cup soccer champion Megan Rapinoe partnered with other soccer players to create Re-inc, a lifestyle brand that promotes inclusive style in all sports arenas.

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