01/02/2016 15:12 GMT | Updated 01/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Are the New Curvy, Tall and Petite Barbies Healthy Role Models or Just Another Kind of Stereotype?


Toys used to be more grounded in the real world, tiny tears resembled a normal baby, and their clothes were the knitted ones your granny used to make. Sindy dolls had normal features and mannequins in windows had far more healthy proportions.

Then the fashion created a new aesthetic and made thinness a prerequisite for beauty, Hollywood followed suit, and so did Barbie. If Barbie was made in adult human form, she would have an 18 inch waist with a 36-inch, giving her a BMI well under the healthy range. In fact it would be impossible for her to walk normally with this physique.

As a result of all these expectations, young girls are more aware of their size and appearance than ever before. ‎Three quarters of 10 year olds are worried about getting fat and over 90% think that there is at least one thing wrong with them.

Barbie and Mattel have waited for years to do something. Not long ago they launched a Moschino Barbie, that not only enforced the thinspiration values but also those of excessive luxury. ‎Others tried, Kickstarter projects such as Lamily tried to launch real dolls but without the proper investment and distribution they failed.

And now finally Barbie has done something. Hats off for creating Barbies that look more normal and offer greater diversity, but then they had to give them labels: curvy, tall or petite.

I'm five foot, and have always been small, and ‎the butt of many 'short ass' or 'it's ok you can stand up now' jokes. Having role models that bust these perceptions is a huge step forward, but it is equally important not to single them out for being different. It's as if to say, if you don't look like the super skinny version, then somehow you're not normal. Most kids want to feel normal so will they really ask for the 'curvy version?'. Will they want to be seen with it?

Also the bigger concern is that the conversation around toys for girls still defaults to appearance. Women are so often judged by their hair, skin and teeth and dolls like Barbie reinforce that. Extending the range to include different shapes continues to fuel the obsession with appearance.

From a young age girls are told they are cute or pretty whilst boys are freed from the shackles of beauty to be smart, funny, strong. As adults our world is also stuffed with clothes, make up, tips to get slimmer, have the thigh gap, brighter complexion or blonder hair. ‎If every women's magazine was stripped of its beauty content there wouldn't be much left.

Yet, we all know girls and women are so much more than this. They have careers, dreams, talents which define them more deeply than any body shape. So instead of creating another type of Barbie look, why couldn't Mattel have launched the doctor barbie, or scientist, or ecologist or writer.

When I was little I was teased, I was the geek and my main solace was creating short stories and writing fairytales. Reading helped me voyage to other more pleasant lands. If I had been faced with a prettier version of short me, I am sure that I would have cut its hair off and shoved it in the bin. All children feel like 'oddbods' and the most effective way of combatting this phobia is to focus on our inner beauty, what's on the inside, that gives our uniqueness.

Any responsible toy company should be working towards this. So Mattel may be slapping themselves on the back today at their successful launch, but to any enlightened parent, or sensitive child, they will see this for what it is - a pr coup, not a sincere gesture to making children's lives healthier and happier.