Dolls, diversity and dismantling stereotypes | Sex in the Suburbs

Dear Mattel,

Props for staying in the conversation about diversity.

I mean, I don’t hold you personally responsible for all the body dysmorphia, eating disorders, racism and sexism in our society.

But here’s the thing.

When we are trying to help children learn through creative play, it’s helpful if they can find themselves in the scenario.

Thanks for broadening the choices kids have from blond-hair, blue-eyed and impossibly proportioned, to include different skin tones, body shapes, hair styles and more.

It’s not world peace, but it’s a start.

When children and adults consume media that portray “attractiveness” as thin, large-breasted women and ripped tough guys, those messages get into our brains.

These “attractiveness messages” are surprisingly prevalent in our culture.

As a matter of fact, children and teens receive over 5,000 of them a year — people trying to influence what they’ll think is attractive and buy something (in your case, a doll — or several dolls).

We also know that just three minutes of looking at a fashion magazine with all those digitally altered images makes most people depressed.

Your inclusion of different body types, sizes, shapes and colors is a start. Your inclusion of different hairstyles for both your male and female dolls is also admirable. Thank you for representing some different cultures with skin tones, facial features, body types and hairstyles.

I know that some folks are all, “It’s just a doll!” But you and I know that, through play, children learn about life.

They resolve conflicts, imagine scenarios and practice behaviors that become life skills.

Being able to do so with more than blond-haired, blue-eyed, impossibly proportioned props today is helpful, especially in America today.

In case there are still people who don’t see the connection, let’s review:

• Only one in 10 white Americans is naturally blond.

• Not all people with blond hair have blue eyes, making the classic Barbie and Ken coloring even more rare.

• Barbie’s original proportions in real life wouldn’t even leave room for all her vital organs.

• Body dysmorphia affects about one in every 100 people and includes obsessing about a part of the body thought to be ugly or in need of correction. Causes of this disorder include societal pressure and cultural expectations around attractiveness.

Sure, these are dolls, and it’s important to remember that play is the work of our children. Helping normalize diversity in bodies through play is a step in the right direction.

Thanks again for helping start, continue and grow better conversations about diversity in our society.

Amy Johnson is a trainer and educator in the Pacific Northwest. She specializes in sexuality education and in promoting safe and healthy sexuality culture in faith communities. All opinions are her own. She can be reached at

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