Barbie is finally a modern woman.
Mattel on Thursday announced a sweeping change to the iconic 57-year-old doll. For the first time ever, Barbie will feature three new body types in addition to the slender, busty doll that is well known today. The new body types are described as “tall, curvy and petite.” The change is so significant, it commanded the attention of Fortune sister publication Time, which wrote a cover story on the news.
“Barbie reflects the world girls see around them,” Mattel (MAT) President and CEO Richard Dickson said in a statement. “Her ability to evolve and grow with the times, while staying true to her spirit, is central to why Barbie is the number one fashion doll in the world.”
That has always been the allure of Barbie. When the doll debuted to skeptical toy buyers at the annual New York City Toy Fair in 1959 with a broad mandate about what makes Barbie special. Creator Ruth Handler said the whole idea was that through Barbie, “the little girl could be anything she wanted to be.” As an aspirational doll with hundreds of jobs and styles throughout the decades, Barbie was touted for its broad appeal.
But for too long, Barbie’s physical appearance stuck with a familiar script: white, thin, and with a big bust.
With sales of the doll plummeting (dropping 20% from 2012 to 2014), Mattel clearly had to make a move to make the beloved yet at times, controversial doll relevant for the 2016 audience. Last year, Mattel generated praise when it announced that the 2015 collection would feature eight different skin tones and over a dozen different hairstyles, a line that also featured bendable ankles for the first time so that Barbie could wear flats.
The look of Barbie has evolved over the decades but the changes the past two years have been by far the most dramatic. While Barbie’s smile, facial features and blonde hair have all changed slightly, she’s always been slender. In the doll aisle, the extremely slender look is also popular for other key properties that are hot sellers today, including Mattel’s Monster High line and the Disney (DIS) Princess characters that are now made by rival Hasbro (HAS).
The thinness of the doll has generated a fair bit of criticism, especially in recent years, as critics claim that it advocates unrealistic beauty standards. In fact, in the book “Ken and Barbie at Life Size,” it was alleged that only one in 100,000 women actually match Barbie’s old body image.
Though Mattel is late to the party when it comes to making Barbie more modern, it should be commended for finally acknowledging that girls today are very different than girls of the past. While children have always varied in size, obesity now affects one out of six children and adolescents in the U.S. And the majority of babies born in the U.S. today are now minorities.
For Barbie to resonate with an increasingly diverse audience, it simply had to change. And because Monster high and Disney Princess dolls are still slender, she now stands out in a unique way for the first time.
That could potentially help result in a sales jolt. Barbie has faced pressure in the doll aisle amid the popularity of Disney’s Frozen line, as young children have pined for Elsa and Anna dolls. Sales for Barbie have dropped for three straight years and are on pace to decline for a fourth in 2015. In the first nine months of that year, gross sales slipped 15% to $578.3 million, though Mattel says retail sales are actually increasing. Some analysts are bullish that a turnaround could soon help lift Mattel’s stock.
Barbie’s new “Fashionistas” doll line will not only feature four body types, but also seven skin tones and 24 different hairstyles. The new dollars are available to order online today in the U.S. and will start shipping to major toy retailers in the spring.
“We believe we have a responsibility to girls and parents to reflect a broader view of beauty,” said Evelyn Mazzocco, senior vice president and global general manager of Barbie.