The latest Barbie is a feminist who fights against racism

The new Mattel doll pays tribute to Ida B. Wells, a civil rights activist whose documentation of lynchings won her a posthumous Pulitzer Prize

The Barbie doll inspired by journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells.
The Barbie doll inspired by journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells.Cuenta de Instagram de Barbie

The toy manufacturer Mattel has taken the maxim “adapt or die” to heart and is radically changing its star product: the Barbie doll. The move is an effort to survive in a market that rejects everything the doll, which appeared in 1959, has stood for. The company is now focused on reflecting the lives of outstanding women, such as Sarah Gilbert, the British researcher who helped create the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine against Covid-19. Gilbert told The Guardian she initially felt “very strange” about having a Barbie doll made after her, but was later excited about the idea of inspiring a new generation of girls. “My wish is that my doll will show children careers they may not be aware of, like a vaccinologist,” she said. This doll is part of a Barbie collection that pays tribute to six women in science whose work played a key role in the fight against the pandemic.

But Mattel has not stopped there. Its first Barbie of 2022 honors Ida B. Wells, who grew up as a slave in the United States and went on to become a famous journalist, and whose work on the lynchings of Black people won her a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 2020. She was also a suffragist who helped further the Black feminist cause. The new Barbie is part of the “Inspiring Women Series,” which includes dolls of pioneering women in different fields, such as artist Frida Kahlo, the activist Rosa Parks, the singer Ella Fitzgerald and the tennis star Naomi Osaka.

The collection is growing and becoming increasingly more modern. Many of the new dolls are also part of a campaign in honor of Black History Month.

All of the Barbies come with information on how the woman the doll is based on inspired the world. But for many, it is still difficult to associate Barbie with a feminist initiative of this time. For decades the doll has been criticized as a tool of oppression, one that subjected women to unrealistic ideals of perfection, created harmful stereotypes and sexualized young girls. The doll has also been lambasted for its unhealthy dimensions. In 2016, Mattel tried to address these concerns by releasing a curvy Barbie, prompting the Time magazine headline: “Now can we stop talking about my body?”

Despite these efforts, the “classic” Barbie, with her extremely thin body, continues to be the best seller. The good news is that now the iconic doll is at least worried about racial injustice.

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