Why Mattel Needs to Stick With Inclusive Barbies
A doll of Frida Kahlo, released this spring as part of Barbie’s Inspiring Women line, should have been an occasion to celebrate for fans of the 20th-century Mexican artist. Instead the doll’s maker, Mattel, received scorn for depicting Kahlo with light eyes and omitting her wheelchair and the unibrow found in her self-portraits.
But other recent non-Caucasian Barbies based on real-life role models, including the U.S. Olympians Ibtihaj Muhammad (wearing a hijab) and Chloe Kim, have been much better received.
Lately Barbie’s sales have been bright for embattled Mattel, which is on its fourth CEO in six years and had posted sales declines every year since 2013. Sales of the dolls were up 24% in the first quarter of 2018, after the key holiday season.
And diversity, whether in skin tone or body size, has been a big part of that sales boost, says industry expert Richard Gottlieb. “[Diversity] was not speaking to children, but speaking to the moms,” he says, noting that Barbie had become a problematic buy for modern mothers who want their children to see more realistic body types in toys.
The challenge for Barbie now is to lead that momentum into a larger shift around views of the iconic doll.
Says Gottlieb, “It’s a macro-cultural issue. The world shifted under Barbie’s feet.”
This article originally appeared in the June 1, 2018 issue of Fortune.