You know instead of just complaining about how anorexic or plastic-ly surgery-ied BBBBarbie is, someone should just develop a full-figured or at least reasonably figured “barbie” and unseat BBBBarbie forever.
I wonder how often this thought has been thunk.
Based on my research, the answer is: Often.
Several times people have actually followed through on this thought and developed a business plan, sought financing, developed prototypes, sought further financing, gone to production, marketed and distributed these anti-barbies.
Remember the Get Real Girls? The ones with sporty bodies who loved to travel and go on adventures?
Remember the three full figured playscale dolls? Brown-skinned Daisa, blonde Dawn and brunette Dena? The Plus-Sized Ladies who rocked Ken’s world?
Let me jog your memory about these and a few other attempts…
Between 1989 and 1993, Cathy Meredig introduced the “Happy to Be Me” dolls. They were intended to come in a variety of body shapes. They would be accompanied by books that helped convey fuller personalities and impart values. Two dolls – Jessica Lyn and Ali Marie were released. Then, It failed.
In 1999, Jenny Baker created a company called “The Get Set Club” and set out to manufacture the G5 set of teen friends. The dolls had realistic proportions, ethnic diversity and career paths built into their playsets. It failed. (read more here, here, here and here)
In 2000, Jana Machin and Julz Chavez created a company called Get Real Girl, Inc. and that company created the Get Real Girls. Six gals known as “action figures” who were fully articulated and played basketball and soccer? You remember – they surfed and went on safari? It failed. (read more here , here , here , here and here and check out some remaining examples of the website that once existed but doesnt anymore by clicking here and here)
In 2006, Audrey Bell and Georgette Taylor pushed things even further – they weren’t offering “realistic average-sized bodies” they were offering a plus-sized line of dolls called Big Beautiful dolls. It failed. Check out the BB dolls at this archived copy of their website. (or read more here)
So why did they fail? There are a few ideas that get thrown around. Here are the potential explanations I hear most often:
1) Little girls prefer idealized images like BBBBarbie. They want glamour and glitz. Big eyes, heavy makeup, short skirts, high heels. They want the dream. They want Pamela Anderson, not Mommy.
2) Mattel systematically ensures that any competitor dolls fail. They control distribution channels and have the funds to step up
competitive marketing efforts when necessary. They lodge patent disputes that cripple startup companies. The startups are forced to cover legal fees instead of re-investing funds in continued product development or marketing.
3) Dolls that have high quality articulated bodies and high quality accessories are too expensive to manufacture for the price that they
command. With such small profit margins, the items cannot survive market fluctuations.
4) Women who don’t want their daughters to play with BBBBarbie avoid playscale dolls altogether thereby making the market for a
BBBBarbie alternative too small to support continued mass production. In other words, Mom’s who might like an Anti-barbie on it’s own merit are so blinded by their rage about BBBBarbie that they can’t see the value in any doll of that scale.
5) When the dolls are introduced by parents into existing playscale doll collections, the dolls are ostracized as “tomboys” or “fat girls” by children playing out real world situations as they have seen them, therefore freaking out parents completely.
There is some mystery around when and how these companies failed — the above theories are just theories. The women themselves are certainly go-getters to be admired (they are Barbie “I Can Be…” a Feminist Pioneer Entrepreneurial Toy Maker!!)
Part of me wants to find them and interview them about what went wrong. But part of me thinks they may not want to discuss their journey because it is painful to see something you believe in, and put so much passion, money and time into, fail.
In lieu of interviewing the Amazing Ladies of the Anti-Barbies, I’d like to answer each of the possibilities from my own perspective.
1) Do girls prefer Pam over Mommy? I don’t buy that. And that’s what this blog is all about. My mantra is: You can use playscale dolls to teach your barbégé what you value in people and in life. Do I wish those companies had survived so I that I would have more purchasing options? Absolutely. I saw one blonde “Happy to be Me” doll in a thrift store and left her there but I have purchased four Get Real Girls on eBay and their bodies and accessories are completely excellent. G5 I have never seen. As for the Big Beautiful ladies, I understand from my Barbie-friend Lola that they can be quite expensive and are rare.
2) Does Mattel systematically crush their competition? I hope not. But I leave open the possibility that this has happened. There is some evidence that the anti-barbies actually created the pressure that brought about improvements at Mattel. Did anti-barbies lead to the creation of the Generation Girls? The Belly Button body? Maybe the articulation offered by the Get Real Girls led to Fashionista articulation? Then again, maybe Fashion Royalty articulation led to Fashionistas? One could certainly say that while the competitive dolls failed as toys in their own right, they suceeded in changing what our barbégé’s dolls look like today. In that respect, they were a success.
3) Can Better Quality items be priced to sell? Spinmaster’s LIV seems to be able to do it. But I’ve heard rumors that Mattel expects a very high profit margin from their doll designers and that this expectation limits quality. Why is LIV able to give us full articulation and great accessories and clothes, but Mattel is not?
4) Are realistic dolls ostracized just like their human counterparts? This is actually a perfect scenario for my blog – it’s a teachable moment for a parent to convey values to a child. It’s exactly why such dolls are needed- so we can disabuse our barbégés of their biases at home and encourage them to take their enlightened views out into the world. Chubby girl dolls will be teased? Bring it on.
While it feels at times like Mattel does their thing and doesn’t bow to criticism, that is not always clearly the case. Mattel has improved their diversity with various ethnic representations and great face molds over the years – largely due to criticism. With SIS they have embraced the need for more than one brown girl at a time. But they also seem to go through cycles. They had more articulation for a while during the 90’s then they abandoned it for a decade or so only to return to it with the release of Fashionistas.
Mattel has also given us a few larger bodies of note. Rosie O’Donnell and Happy Family Grandma (seen here with SIS Grace Belly Button Body in between for comparison).
Additionally, Mattel A company called Jakks Pacific has given us two truly Plus-sized dolls in the the form of the Hairspray Movie collection. Tracy and Edna Turnblad.
Maybe there is only the need for rumors of anti-barbies.
We still don’t have the option of all three in one: articulation + the range of skin tones + the choice of some thicker body types.
So maybe I will start one here and now:
Did you hear that there is a company with a crazy amount of start-up capital that is designing dolls in a range of skin tones, with a “pick your body style” that includes “Average” and “Plus Sized” options? These body styles have articulated knees and elbows (and maybe even wrists and ankles). This company is going to blow the socks off Mattel!! Spread the word!