Oh, Barbie. Such a complicated relationship you have with women. More than any other doll, Barbie is considered the iconic American toy of girls in the U.S., and is most well known by her critics as not being able to stand up on her own two feet if she were a real woman. Now, she’s going bald.
In recent years, Mattel has tried to tackle the claim that Barbie isn’t a particularly great role model by giving the doll a series of “careers” that are fairly diverse – engineer, teacher, architect, news anchor, dentist, vet – but of course, Barbie always remains looking very much same. Extremely skinny, with long flowing blonde locks, huge blue eyes decorated with sparkly makeup, and a plethora of fashions to help – of course – make her over! (Warning – I like the color pink, but the Barbie.com web site is… overwhelmingly, dauntingly pink.)
But apparently, one thing – just one, mind you – about Barbie is going to change. After a campaign launched on Facebook to make a bald Barbie received over 150,000 “likes,” Mattel agreed to make a bald Barbie. The description of the group says that the goal of a bald Barbie is to “help young girls who suffer from hair loss due to cancer treatments, alopecia, or trichotillomania,” as well as “for young girls who are having trouble coping with their mothers’ hair loss from chemo.”
So, this is cool idea, right? Overall, I think it’s great – making a bald version of the iconic American doll to help normalize an element of cancer or other illnesses that can be really scary for little kids. Of course, it won’t be called Barbie… it will be a friend of Barbie’s.
OK, I can concede to that, I suppose. But the Facebook campaign was pushing to make bald Barbie available in stores, so anyone can buy them – something I think is a great idea, as it can be a great way to discuss with children the side effects of some illnesses in a less threatening way.
But when Mattel announced that they would be making the doll last week, they said that they would not be distributing them to toy store – they would be “selectively” distributing them through children’s hospitals. It feels a little bit like they’re trying to keep it a bit secret. One 15-year-old girl who suffers from alopecia said exactly what I was thinking – “If you’re wanting to make a Barbie doll that’s different, and you’re wanting to show kids who are different that they can be different, why not show it to normal kids so that they can accept the different kids?”
Precisely. Distributing the bald Barbies directly to children’s hospitals is a good way to get them directly and quickly to the kids that are being immediately impacted by hair loss. But it also serves to underscore the separation of these kids from children who have not lost their hair, treating them as something different, existing in a different world, instead of showing that just because you lost your hair doesn’t mean you are any less normal. I do applaud Mattel’s decision to make the doll, but I’d love it even more if anyone who wanted to could easily pick one up!