Barbie has, of course, been around for decades. During that time, she has undergone various transformations as new dolls have been added to the product line. However, now it seems that Mattel have decided to move forward with two new dolls that further increase the feeling of diversity amongst their brand.
The two new dolls in question are rather interesting. The first is Barbie in a wheelchair while the second is Barbie with a prosthetic limb. You must admit that this is indeed vastly different to anything that has gone before it, and Mattel should come in for some praise as a result.
But this then opens up a debate. Is this the kind of doll that the disabled have been waiting for?
In all honesty, the fact that they have developed dolls with disabilities shows how far we have come in attempts to normalize disability. This is a good thing, and it should have happened a long time ago. There's nothing to feel ashamed about regarding a disability. There's no logical reason for individuals, and especially children, to feel excluded due to them being in a wheelchair or having a prosthesis.
Sadly, there are often a number of stereotypes associated with disabilities. There are various stigmas unfairly attributed to children with some kind of disability. Too often, people view them as being incapable of doing so much and that they are 'different' in so many ways.
This is not true, and nor is it fair.
There is a sense that children, or indeed people in general, with a disability are vastly underrepresented in society, and toys is one area where there is a massive problem. Can you even think of any other examples?
It does seem that things are changing. It wasn't even that long ago that a bridal store in the UK received plaudits for having a window display of a bride in a wheelchair. It makes perfect sense to move these ideas over into the world of toys. If children can begin to see disability as normal, then this is something that they will take with them into adulthood.
Of course, we also need to think about children that live with a disability and need a patient lift. Children love dolls or action figures as they ignite their imagination. However, at the same time there's a sense of young girls wanting to find a doll that looks like them.
Up until now, that was something deemed as impossible for children with a disability. This in itself is crazy when you consider 19% of the population of the United States has a disability.
Seeing all of these 'perfect' dolls and toys is depressing for children with a disability. Up until Mattel announced that they were producing these dolls there was virtually nothing where those children could look at a toy and see themselves. Instead, they were faced with some concept of perfection.
That in itself is soul-destroying for a child in that position.
Young girls love the idea of a doll being similar to them in some way. It makes them feel special and builds a stronger connection. It also makes the play aspect a lot easier. At the same time, it's good for children to also be exposed to people that are different. It helps them to see that we are all the same inside even though there are changes on the outside.
The fact that a major manufacturer such as Mattel are now actively addressing this gap in their product line is at least a step in the right direction.
One thing we must aim for is that children will no longer view themselves with a sense of shame because of their disability. It is part of their own identity and is something to feel pride about. Look at the way in which people with disabilities go on to achieve wonderful things. Is it not worth spending the time installing this sense of everything is possible from an early age?
It's worth pointing out that this isn't the first time that Mattel have made an attempt to include a disabled doll in their product line. However, it will hopefully work out better than their first attempt.
Back in the early 90's, Mattel did introduce a doll called Becky. The irony is that the doll eventually had the same issues as are faced by so many people in wheelchairs. The problem? The doll in her wheelchair was unable to access the Barbie Dreamhouse.
I guess a key question is whether or not this will change things. Will the appearance of a doll in a wheelchair or with a prosthesis alter the way in which disabled people are viewed?
I like to think that kids are, in general, more accepting of people with some kind of a disability than adults. To that extent, it won't change their perception as that is something that is already in a good place.
Where it will change things is the way in which those children will no longer feel like an outcast. They can start to see that they are worthwhile members of society.
Those children that are disabled in some way can now play with a toy that does indeed reflect them and their life. That is in itself empowering and can help them to see themselves in a more positive light. There is no way that this can ever become a negative thing.
All that remains is to hope that Mattel don't make a mess of things like they did with their previous attempt. If they do it right, then this could very well turn into a major success both with the sales figures and the way in which disabled people are viewed in society.