by Dinah Williams, Head of Social Media and Engagement
Earlier this week Barbie doll manufacturer Mattel, announced the launch of its 2020 ‘Fashionistas’ collection, the most diverse collection of dolls in its 57-year history. Specifically, with promoting diversity and inclusivity in mind, the collection includes a Ken doll with long hair, a black doll with vitiligo (I can’t be the only person who immediately thinks of Winnie Harlow and how she’s rocked the fashion world in recent years as being a huge influence here?) as well as dolls with prosthetics and hair loss.
Tomorrow is the start of Children’s Mental Health Week in the UK, an opportunity to spotlight the importance of children’s and young people’s mental health and this year, the theme is ‘Find your brave’. As a black girl growing up in 80’s Britain and as an only child, I had to find my brave as a way of survival. Don’t misunderstand that statement, I had a pleasant, pretty ordinary childhood. I was loved and safe and a happy, sociable individual. However, when I look back, I recall occasions where I was the only child that looked like me in the room. Not at school, I grew up in the ‘jazzy’ suburbs of South East London, I wasn’t the only black child in my class, but I was at my Saturday dance classes, Brownies and swimming and badminton clubs. But I never let that affect me. I was always a naturally confident and friendly character with the ability to whip back a response if anyone said anything unkind.
But what does stick in my mind, is not having toys that looks like me, or characters in books that looked similar to me and I very vividly recall asking my mum for a black doll of any kind to play with and her saying “We can’t get one here, we’ll have to wait until someone we know goes to America and I’ll ask them to get you one”. Now, international travel in the mid-’80’s was not as cost-friendly as it is nowadays, so that meant waiting and the truth is, I never got it.
Fast forward 20 years to 2005 and I have a 4-year old daughter of my own. The world had changed – slightly, and I remember her face when on her 5th birthday, she opened her present and it was a black baby Annabelle. She was happy (and so was her twin brother, I remember him dressed in his Batman costume (which he would almost sleep in), running up and down our cul-de-sac pushing her three-wheeler pram with the Baby Annabelle inside. But I was happier. It meant, although not her skin exact tone and hair texture, she had a toy that looked similar to her, her family and friends and I was able to go to the local shop to purchase it, rather than wait until someone flew to America – it signified progress.
10 years on in 2015, The Barbie ‘Fashionista’ collection launched, with the aim of representing girls of different skin types, eye colour, hair colours and textures as well as body types and styles to the delight of consumers worldwide. Barbie said the collection is to allow children to ‘find a doll that speaks to them’. In 2019, half of all dolls sold globally belonged to the diverse range. Of the 10 top-selling dolls, 7 were from the diverse collection, including the doll with a wheelchair. In the UK, both dolls with wheelchairs were the two bestselling Fashionistas dolls, whilst globally, the curvy black doll with afro hair was the best-selling.
‘Finding your brave’ can seem like a difficult task, especially as a child. Some children instinctively display ‘bravely’ and ‘courageousness’ more than others, but just like adults, it’s easier when you don’t feel like you are the only one like you. Reading about the diverse 2020 collection and how Barbie are continuing to increase the breadth of diversity within its range, is incredibly encouraging and if only one more child doesn’t feel like they are ‘the only one’ then I believe it’s an opportunity for celebration.