disability, feminism, politics, Uncategorized

Why I’m Upset By Mattel’s New ‘Inspiring Women’ Barbie Collection

If you’ve read my blog before, or even just Thursday’s post for International Women’s Day, you know that in my eyes, you are not a feminist if you do not support all intersections of society.That is why Barbie’s new collection of feminist icon dolls has straight up angered me so very much.

The Public’s Verdict

Online, I’ve seen such mixed reports on the issue. Some people’s tweets have been link shares and heart eyes, and others fuelled with anger, or uncertainty (the latter response have been the reactions of most people in my direct circle, personally).

Why is this release of feminist icons to inspire young girls and boys such an issue?

It’s not the feminism part, or the women part that’s such an issue. Obviously, I am a feminist. This is something very clear. But I am an intersectional feminist, no less, and Barbie have seemed to ignore intersectionality to some fair extent in creating their figures. Yes, they have totally embraced people from many different occupations, and yes, not all of them are white, but even when embracing people of other cultures and minorities, they have seemingly totally eradicated clear parts of their identity.

Who’s made the cut?

  • Frieda Kahlo, Artist
  • Amelia Earheart, Avation Pioneer
  • Martyna Wojciechowska, Journalist
  • Hélène Darroze, World-Renowned Chef
  • Ashley Graham, Model And Body Positive Activist
  • Patty Jenkins, Filmmaker
  • Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician And Physicist
  • Yuan Yuan Tan, Prima Ballerina
  • Sara Gama, Soccer Player
  • Leyla Piedayesh, Designer and Entrepreneur
  • Ibtihaj Muhammad, Fencing Champion
  • Bindi Irwin, Conservationist
  • Xiaotong Guan, Actress And Philanthropist
  • Chloe Kim, Snowboarding Champion
  • Gabby Douglas, Gymnastics Champion
  • Ava Duvernay, Film Director
  • Hui Ruoqi, Volleyball Champion
  • Nicola Adams OBE, Boxing Champion

List sourced from Bored Panda.

Why are you complaining?!

I have to make this clear: it’s not the progress, the idea of releasing feminist figures, that I have the issue with. I do greatly appreciate that it is progress, and I sure would’ve loved these figures to play with as a kid, regardless, but I am vexed about a few (a fair few) things.

I do, however, want to make this disclaimer since, not doing so clearly enough on my personal Facebook resulted in a little backlash (though mostly good things and a few shares), but upon expansion of why I was angry people sort of… took a step back.

Here is the original post (though, as you can see the tone is very chatty…. c’mon… it’s my personal Facebook… I’m allowed a tone break)
As you can see, I was also very angry initially. Hence the few days break to chill and write a more coherent (yet still angry!) post.


Some representation is better than none, right?

I feel like there definitely could have been more representation still, and many people have not been represented in the correct way…

Do it right!

In my opinion, when you don’t actually truly represent, and only feature minimal representation… why even represent? I don’t mean that in a ‘stop representing’ way, not at all, but I think that when you don’t truly speak for someone’s identity, you’re not really representing someone at all. I have two main issues with this this when it comes to Mattel:

  • Airbrush. There is actually a fair bit of representation in the sense of ethnicity, but there is an issue with it.. I understand, as my good friend Soley has pointed out, that Mattel mass make toys. They make figurines on a large sale, for a large audience. So, dolls can’t be perfect, to scale, etc. But…. Airbrushing dolls to look nothing like the actual person is an issue. I understand, to some extent… Barbie is an ‘aesthetic’, but isn’t the while point of many of these dolls to defy it? Many of these dolls have been massively whitewashed, or if not, airbrushed to look what Barbie would call ‘perfect’, instead of actually like their already very beautiful selves. The faces of Asian figures such as Xiaotong Guan don’t look very true to how they look. It seems to somewhat erase their ethnicity. Also, figures such as Ava Duvernay have very much been airbrushed to Western Beauty standards. As you can see, her make up is quite distinctive but relative to her general look, and this airbrush doesn’t ensure she’s very lifelike at. Image credit to Bored Panda.

  • Some key features are missing…. As well as this airbrush, some people’s key features are missing. Frida Kahlo, who also suffered the touch of the airbrush with a lack of truly representative facial hair, has one key feature missing… her disability. Now, as someone who suffers from an invisible disability, of course I understand: not all disabilities are visible. However, Kahlo was visibly disabled, and has been both pictured using a wheelchair, and has painted herself into a chair into her self portrait. Visibly using, and being known for using a wheelchair, you definitely could have brought it into it… Being disabled is not something to be ashamed of, and Kahlo has been a massive influence in the Disabled community, especially when it comes to self identifying as disabled and how that now impacts disabled people who finally feel comfortable to embrace it. It truly does upset me that Kahlo, a massive icon to many, has been misrepresented. Comments have also been made by her family, angered at this.

What about the values?

Another thing I have an issue with is what Mattel stand for, versus what Kahlo did. Kahlo stood for all things left wing, and fought for communism. Mattel have taken this amazing communist figure and commercialised her… they are quite literally sponging off her inspiration and ideals for capitalism, what she was against. Although, maybe, for young children who just want a figure to look up to, they won’t be as concerned with this or understand, but lefties like myself who adore this icon… are kind of offended by it. I really don’t think it’s right to exploit someone’s values for the opposite of what they stand for (or anything, for that matter, but you can understand my above phrasing, I’m sure.)

So, what have they done for good?

I don’t want to 100% seem like a negative nelly… I am not saying that Mattel’s collection isn’t for the good. When I was a child, I would have loved figures like these- heck, I kinda do still now (if my huge collection of female superheroes in Pop! Vinyl form doesn’t already show)…. but I just think people do need to be aware of these downsides. If we don’t make a noise now, then big companies aren’t going to correct these errors for the future. We will not get the representation we need or deserve. And I want that representation.

I think, as a disabled person, I very much have a right to comment on something as big as missing out a wheelchair, when figures like Frida are why I’ve become more comfortable using a wheelchair, and sharing pictures of myself in said chair on social platforms I’m able to self empower like Instagram.

Also, they’ve been very broad in things from profession onwards in their inspiring collection. Amazing women, such as Katherine Johnson are frequently swept under the carpet and now they’re going to be in the media more. Ira may inspire young girls to think: I like science, and it’s okay to want to fly a rocket instead of be a ballerina (disclaimer: I do not believe in enforcing gender roles as this last line may suggest, I’m merely reflecting on experiences of my own childhood wanting to play football, to like school- as well as being so into dance, too).

I am very happy that a big consumer brand has released something for the good, and glad it’s someone with a younger age target, so Mattel? I do thank you. I just praise you be careful, and aware.

I hope this has given you some thinking juice.

Love always,

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