Barbie's newest neighbor is whoever you want them to be
September 27, 2019 11:29 AM   Subscribe

Fifty years after Mattel debuted Barbie (YT, ad), they are releasing Creatable World, dolls can be a boy, girl, or neither. 'A Doll For Everyone': Meet Mattel's Gender-Neutral Doll (Time Magazine with embedded video). "If you’re among the skeptics out there, please keep in mind that dolls and toys won’t turn kids into something they’re not — they help kids figure out who they already are." (Cool Mom Picks)
posted by filthy light thief (39 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Barb-x

(Good for William!)
posted by chavenet at 11:48 AM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm super excited about representation and a little disappointed when gender gets boiled down into haircuts and clothing choices.
posted by advicepig at 11:48 AM on September 27, 2019 [6 favorites]


advicepig: "I'm super excited about representation and a little disappointed when gender gets boiled down into haircuts and clothing choices."

Barbie steps, barbie steps!
posted by chavenet at 11:49 AM on September 27, 2019 [53 favorites]


this should liven up the War On Christmas this year
posted by thelonius at 11:54 AM on September 27, 2019 [38 favorites]


a little disappointed when gender gets boiled down into haircuts and clothing choices.

I may be mis-reading their intention, but they designed the dolls to be as gender-neutral as possible, to be gender-fluid in terms of kids selecting the gender identity of their doll as they see fit.

What other choices would you offer for a doll? I'm asking, because I'm drawing a blank on other interchangeable features, not because I'm questioning your statement. Thanks!
posted by filthy light thief at 12:06 PM on September 27, 2019 [13 favorites]


Fifty years after Mattel debuted Barbie

Sixty years. It was 1959. Like Barbie says, math is hard. (Sorta.)
posted by fuse theorem at 12:07 PM on September 27, 2019 [13 favorites]


This is a major step forward. But I can't help noting that the dolls are all anorexic.

Everyone welcome! Except anyone who is not a size 0
posted by caution live frogs at 12:11 PM on September 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


Sixty years. It was 1959.

Ah, good catch, thanks!


The original ad versus the current product, for its shortcomings, are startling:

1959: your toy is your role model -- your goal as a little girl is to grow up to be like Barbie, whose original roles appeared to include "bride."

2019: your toy is whatever you want it to.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:15 PM on September 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


This is a major step forward. But I can't help noting that the dolls are all anorexic.

Everyone welcome! Except anyone who is not a size 0


There is the Fashionista Barbie line; I wouldn't be surprised if Mattel (eventually) did a similar range of body types for these dolls.
posted by damayanti at 12:18 PM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


Facebook advertised this to me without any mention of gender, but with several little boys shown holding dolls. So I clicked through the videos and was disappointed to see all the dolls were girls/women in the video. I'm not sure what I'm seeing/interpreting/whatever, but even with the short hair, the dolls all look female to me. They're not all super-traditional female, but they're definitely on that side of the spectrum. There doesn't seem to be options for dressing/styling/whatever the doll as a traditionally-presenting cis-boy/man, though it's easy to turn it into a traditional-presenting cis-girl/woman. I was disappointed.

Please forgive me and educate me if I've used the wrong ways of describing what I mean here.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:21 PM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


"as a non-binary person"... I wish one of the dolls had big, inconvenient boobs. That doll would have helped me figure my shit out as a kid.
posted by captain afab at 12:22 PM on September 27, 2019 [11 favorites]


I could swear most dolls I had as a kid were gender neutral, not because it's a thing but because no one cared very much. They never had penises and if they were child dolls they were flat chested. We often cut their hair, if they even had any hair. And when they do have hair, it's like those troll dolls. Are troll dolls boys or girls? Does that question even have any meaning? Barbie's pronouncedly gendered but with most dolls it's just the clothes, not the underlying dolls, that gender them.

This doll looks pretty average to me.
posted by elizilla at 12:23 PM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


My daughters cut Elsa's hair so that she could become Ian.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:27 PM on September 27, 2019 [13 favorites]


The_Vegetables: I would LOVE to see a photo of Ian.
posted by amtho at 12:40 PM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


I wish one of the dolls had big, inconvenient boobs
They could repurpose "Growing Up Skipper" - Barbie's little sister doll, who - no kidding - had boobs that grew or shrunk when you cranked one of her arms.
posted by Daily Alice at 12:47 PM on September 27, 2019 [9 favorites]


Filthy Light Thief, it's not exactly about the dolls per se, but about how we often default to clothes and hair to decide what gender something is. Take emoji for example. I'm excited about feeling represented by having a cyclist with long hair, but disappointed that it's labelled as female cyclist. So I guess the thing I bristle against is that it is our features/clothes/style that determine our gender rather than who we are on the inside. Maybe this is part of my own nonbinary existence, but it feels like we get defined by the very things that seem to box us in.
posted by advicepig at 1:04 PM on September 27, 2019 [6 favorites]


"as a non-binary person"... I wish one of the dolls had big, inconvenient boobs. That doll would have helped me figure my shit out as a kid.

Came here to say this.
posted by Young Kullervo at 1:08 PM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


But I can't help noting that the dolls are all anorexic.

Please don't use "anorexic" and "thin" interchangeably?
posted by wreckingball at 1:27 PM on September 27, 2019 [39 favorites]


anorexic doesn't equal thin! not a body type

i feel like the moms in the article but from the other end of things. i assumed for days, just glancing at details, that these were meant to be nb dolls but they're just customizable, right? which is rad and i would've loved these so much as a kid! but i keep getting stuck on my assumption and thinking, but presentation isn't gender! and nonbinariness has nothing to do with the androgyny of your body/face! just like the moms can't get past dolls are for girls! thinking about gender is confusing!

but the actual dolls and the product page itself are delightfully bland, which makes it so wild if these are really the first gender-neutral dolls ever. (i still hate Carefully Ungendered Facial Features, Whatever That Means, but don't know how you could do that better without just having body diversity in the line. but is it also weird that the barbies of color all have the same face as the white barbie?)

Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard, who play the main characters on Stranger Things, blend into a single floppy-haired, genderless person with sharp cheekbones
they already look so much alike i couldn't tell them apart in season two, also why is mattel making these mashups, this is tickling me
posted by gaybobbie at 1:37 PM on September 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


Basically I think these are "aspirational" bodies for non-binary people just like Barbie was meant to be aspirational for women

(The scare quotes are very intentional)
posted by captain afab at 1:51 PM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


All I know is that my 5 year old, who is amab and might be a boy but also tells us they're a girl and sometimes tells us they're a dinosaur (and sometimes a boy dinosaur and sometimes a girl frog, it changes on the regular, today Typechip is a "girl roller coaster human") came over to watch the commercial with me and asked for the curly haired doll specifically that has their hair color so.

Well that's one Christmas present sorted I guess.
posted by FritoKAL at 2:17 PM on September 27, 2019 [24 favorites]


advicepig: I guess the thing I bristle against is that it is our features/clothes/style that determine our gender rather than who we are on the inside.

I understand, and I agree. Thanks for elaborating!


captain afab: Basically I think these are "aspirational" bodies for non-binary people just like Barbie was meant to be aspirational for women

Good point. I was just thinking about Barbie in a wheelchair (LolsDolls) - it's still Barbie, but now she's sitting on a chair with wheels. On one level, it's portraying Barbie as differently abled which is positive, but otherwise she and her friends are still the same perfect plastic people.

Now there are dolls who don't have distinctly "feminine" eyelashes or curves, or masculine builds. But they're still perfect plastic people in other ways.

Barbie steps?
posted by filthy light thief at 2:18 PM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


The_Vegetables: I would LOVE to see a photo of Ian.

I can't find him since they have many dolly piles, but he's a Disney side-eye Elsa with all her hair cut off (like a flattop) and I think they took off all her clothes and gave her a sock dress. That's what all their boy dolls wear.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:38 PM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


The cheapest solution would have been to just manufacture the exact same Barbie and Ken dolls (or other pre-existing dolls), give them mix n match hair/clothes and say on the package that they're non-binary.

See also: all those maligned gendered "X for women" and "X for men" products could stay as they are while removing the words "for men" and "for women" from the packaging to maximize both variety and choice of gendered-ness. "All-gender restroom" signs could just say "restroom."

Honestly, being lazy and being inclusive go hand in hand. Boggles my mind how much this stuff matters to cis people that they'd sacrifice efficiency in the name of stereotypes.
posted by picklenickle at 2:41 PM on September 27, 2019 [4 favorites]


Something that should not be overlooked is that these dolls are meant to represent pre-pubescent children.

The Senior Vice President of Mattel Fashion Doll Design describes the doll thusly:
“It is a fashion doll, but it's a gender neutral body and it's a kit that comes with about 14 accessories, clothing, shoes, a long wig. The doll itself has short hair so the kids can put together all of these elements and build a doll and then rebuild it all again. It's about six kits, different ethnicities and all different accessories and clothing to put together in whatever expression they would like, and whatever character they would like to build. The target age for the product is five to eight and the doll itself is prepubescent. So it's a body and an expression that’s not a realistic rendering, but it's a stylized interpretation of a preteen child.”
The main difference between these dolls and many other child-bodied fashion dolls is that they're not assigned a name, they're not being styled and marketed to conform to a binary gender stereotype, and their hair converts easily between a short style and a long style. Mattel is specifically marketing the doll as being able to be whatever gender and have whatever style the child playing with it wants it to have*.

From the product description on the Mattel website:
"Creatable World™ inspires all kids to get creative with doll play -- Deluxe Character Kits provide a blank canvas along with the pieces to create unique characters, over and over again! The 11-inch (29.94-cm) doll wears a tank and shorts, has a short haircut and comes with six items of clothing, three pairs of shoes, two additional accessories and a long-haired wig -- all versatile pieces that give kids the freedom to make their characters whoever they want them to be. Dress the doll one way for one character, then switch it up for someone completely different! The clothing is straight off the playground, and authentic details keep it even more real. The wig is easy to take on and off -- kids can switch long hair for short hair, then back again. Add a skirt, pants or use both. Accessorize…or don’t."
* within the limitations of the particular kit selected, but all of the kits have at least one skirt and at least one pair of pants amongst the 6 items of clothing (not including shoes and accessories).
posted by Secret Sparrow at 3:13 PM on September 27, 2019 [12 favorites]


I do love the phrase Barbie steps. And when I stop being curmudgeonly, I'll admit this is a great Barbie leap forward.
posted by captain afab at 3:14 PM on September 27, 2019 [4 favorites]


If you’re among the skeptics out there, please keep in mind that dolls and toys won’t turn kids into something they’re not — they help kids figure out who they already are.

Not only that, this toy line will likely mean certain kids won't be horrifically cruel to those peers who have already done that figuring out. (Representation matters.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:46 PM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


advicepig: "it's not exactly about the dolls per se, but about how we often default to clothes and hair to decide what gender something is ... So I guess the thing I bristle against is that it is our features/clothes/style that determine our gender rather than who we are on the inside."

It's fascinating to watch little kids try to figure out the "rules" for visually identifying who's a boy and who's a girl*.

When my niece was very little she picked up the ideas that boys have short hair and girls have long hair, girls wear dresses and skirts and like pink and boys don't. Pretty standard stereotype type stuff so far. BUT... in her nearby family & circle friends all of the girls and women happened to have brown eyes and all the boys and men happened to have light eyes (blue/grey/green). So she quietly decided that obviously girls have brown eyes and boys have light eyes. Then her family came to our city for a visit and her Grandma had a pixie-cut, her Uncle's favourite colour is pink, and I (a long haired woman wearing a skirt) had GREEN EYES. Poor kid's mind was blown.


* You can't, not reliably. Rules are bullshit.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 4:03 PM on September 27, 2019 [16 favorites]


Rob Smith—the founder of the Phluid Project, a gender-free clothing store that caters to the LGBTQ+ community in New York City—says several large corporations, including Mattel, have approached him for advice on how to market to the young masses... “I work with a lot of companies who are figuring out that the separation between male and female is less important to young consumers who don’t want to be boxed into anything,” he says. “There’s men’s shampoo and women’s shampoo, but it’s just all shampoo."

No, there's different boxing, different marketing, and different pricing.
Many products are rebranded and priced higher for women, and not always with better quality. Clothing (functional pockets in pants -- we want them!), shoes, personal care products (disposable razors in pink and purple). Cheap tools with pink handles.
Women's marketing is a scam that starts before the cradle.
* Returning to your currently scheduled program. *

These dolls are seriously cute. Both my daughters had short hair from time to time (including now in their 30s). They wore more shirts and jeans than skirts (still do). I would have enjoyed getting these dolls for them. And yes, cutting the hair off was a thing.
The problem with the Fashionista line of adult Barbies is the limited number of clothes that fit the new body types. We would buy new dolls because it was cheaper than buying the clothes separately.
posted by TrishaU at 4:08 PM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


What about the doll/action-figure divide? Do Creatable World dolls go off to war against evil space robot dinosaurs in between dates and tea parties? Does G.I. Jo(e) get a peacetime life?
posted by acb at 4:31 PM on September 27, 2019 [4 favorites]


I can't help noting that the dolls are all anorexic.

Fashion dolls in general have historically tended to be on the slender side; there's a limit to how thin you can make fabric without making it too delicate to handle, so the doll's clothing tends to be proportionally thicker than a real person's. Making the doll's trunk slimmer compensates for the relative thickness of the fabric.

I would have loved these dolls. I had a few flat-chested, slim-hipped fashion dolls that I used as either boys or girls, and I also remember poking in the breasts of my hollow plastic dolls when I needed extra men. I made lots of hats and ponytails because I didn't feel like cutting hair.

Do Creatable World dolls go off to war against evil space robot dinosaurs in between dates and tea parties?


My dolls' adventures were usually in the Old West or the Middle Ages, but I do fondly recall a couple space adventures. And one epic naval battle in the mud pit behind the barn.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:05 PM on September 27, 2019 [4 favorites]


My daughters cut Elsa's hair so that she could become Ian.

I had a Little Mermaid Barbie and a regular Barbie and no Kens, so I cut the regular Barbie's hair short so that she could stand in for Eric. (It probably shouldn't have taken me 15 more years to figure out I liked girls.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:33 PM on September 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


"If you’re among the skeptics out there, please keep in mind that dolls and toys won’t turn kids into something they’re not — they help kids figure out who they already are."

Says the people who brought us Barbie? Barbie whose measurements in reality mean she’d be like 6 foot tall with an 18-inch waist and so little body fat she wouldn’t menstruate? And teeny little feet already tipped up to fit into high heels? In a world of child and teenage eating disorders and body hatred and unrealistic, suffocating beauty standards? Maybe not the sturdiest platform to preach from there, Mattel.

The new dolls themselves look good and all, though.
posted by Catseye at 11:34 PM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


dolls and toys won’t turn kids into something they’re not — they help kids figure out who they already are

Granted I don't travel in circles where such things are discussed with much nuance, but I've never heard the importance of representation for kids expressed so perfectly and succinctly, thank you.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:53 PM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


The main difference between these dolls and many other child-bodied fashion dolls is that they're not assigned a name, they're not being styled and marketed to conform to a binary gender stereotype, and their hair converts easily between a short style and a long style.

Wait wait wait! That would imply that these dolls are for CHILDREN. To PLAY with. And not for 40 year-old mefites 40 year-old creepy collector guys? That's impossible! What would children have to do with Barbie?
posted by happyroach at 1:24 AM on September 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


happyroach - I know what you were going for (I think?), but it's entirely uncharitable to state that all Adult doll Collectors are by Definition creepy.

Plenty of people (myself included) collect dolls aimed at various ages for all sorts of reasons that in no way could be construed as 'Creepy'.

As a side note, I'm also hellofva Queer and although I'm not Genderfluid, I will definitely be buying one of these Creatable World dolls, for full grown Adult self
posted by Faintdreams at 7:02 AM on September 28, 2019 [8 favorites]


I never grew up. I grew old.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:13 AM on September 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


Like Barbie says, math is hard. (Sorta.)

Until the Barbie Liberation Organization got hold of them:
They gained notoriety in 1993 by switching the voice boxes on talking G.I. Joes and Barbie dolls. The BLO performed "surgery" on a reported 300–500 dolls and then returned them to the shelves of stores, an action they refer to as shopgiving. This action resulted in girls opening their new Teen Talk Barbie to hear it say phrases such as "vengeance is mine" and boys hearing their G.I. Joe say "The beach is the place for summer."
(sharing this for anyone who didn't click through and read the wiki article linked in the original comment)
posted by exogenous at 12:19 PM on September 28, 2019 [11 favorites]


I got one of these today for my five year old daughter. She has a haircut of her own, very specific, design, and her new doll has exactly the same one, right down to the zigzags shaved in the sides. To say it is a profound hit is to make a huge understatement. For one girl at least, Mattel did good.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 5:24 PM on September 28, 2019 [13 favorites]


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