Since Barbie first emerged on the doll scene nearly 57 years ago, she hasn’t changed much. Sure, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman with an impossibly tiny waist occasionally swaps her evening gown for a bikini, and maybe her skin tone gets darker or she switches careers — but it’s nothing major, really. (That being said, when Barbie got a makeover recently and started wearing flats instead of high heels, people everywhere with feet may or may not have shed a tear of gratitude and relief.) Beyond that, however, Barbie’s character is as seemingly impermeable as the hard plastic material she’s made of.
Mattel Inc. on the other hand, the company that manufactures Barbie, appears to be taking a giant leap out of the last century squarely into the present day. A commercial for a new Barbie, Moschino Barbie, shows two Barbies — one white, one black — wearing black Moschino clothes and sunglasses, their hair all done-up, and their blingy accessories all shiny and gold. (Oddly, Moschino Barbie also comes with a circa-1998 cell phone, but maybe she’s just ahead of the Adele curve on that one.)
But most noticeably, alongside the new Barbies and the two little girls playing with them in the commercial, is a little boy.
“Moschino Barbie … so fierce!” the boy says, cocking his head while not a hair moves out of place in his perfectly coiffed mohawk.
Later in the spot, he declares with a sassy wink, “It’s for you, Moschino Barbie!” while handing Barbie her
rotary dial landline cell phone.
It’s a basic :30 commercial, but the presence of the little boy can’t be understated. And this isn’t Mattel’s first foray into shattering some of the age-old gender stereotypes, including the recent news that their new line of DC Super Hero Girls dolls were modeled after real girls for a more realistic shape.
Target and Disney made the move this year to banish gender-specific toy aisles as well, but Mattel might actually be taking it a step further. It’s one thing to see a girl playing with blue toys or dressed as a pirate, but it’s a whole other ball of wax when the company that put dolls on the map shows a boy playing with them. Like Hasbro’s non-pink Easy Bake Ovens before it, featuring a boy playing with a Barbie is a huge leap in showing the world that there are no girl toys and boy toys — there’s just toys.
One commenter on the Moschino Barbie YouTube page said:
“This almost made me cry! I used to play with my sister’s Barbies and felt such shame afterward. I’m so glad we can just let kids be kids. Thank you for this! Boys like dolls too!”
Surely Mattel has known that girls aren’t alone in enjoying their playtime with Barbie, but the difference now, is their willingness to have those kids not traditionally associated with liking dolls, featured playing with them loudly and proudly.
To people who’ve felt a high ick factor with Barbie all these years, she’ll probably forever remain the same doll, just with different clothes. But what’s changing is our world, and for the better — not worse — is a historically girl-centric company widening its scope and acknowledging that dolls are not synonymous with girls, just with playing.