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Yunqi Huo

Breaking Gender Stereotypes: You Can Be Anything!

Image courtesy of Lida Pan

In honour of International Women’s Day, Barbie of Mattel announced a new line of Role Model Barbies on the March 8th 2018.

This change in tradition leads us to question how many stereotypes of women we are breaking.

American toy company Mattel launched the first Barbie doll in March 1959. It tried to sell Barbie as an independent and professional woman; however, criticisms of its unrealistic body image overshadowed the social values which the dolls were sold upon. With gender equality becoming a popular topic in contemporary society, we can find that brands tied to gender stereotypes, like Barbie, are breaking stereotypes to rebuild their image.

As a traditional toy by stereotyped standards, Barbie has changed a lot. In its popular advertising in 2015, Barbie tells you that you can ‘be anything’. Mattel also started to introduce dolls with more realistic images. Barbie can now be curvy, tall and petite in body shapes, beyond the original stick-thin version often associated with the brand. Its Role Model series connects with the real world. It has now introduced 19 incredible women from a diverse range of backgrounds. As Barbie shows in its advertising video, Imagining she can be anything is just the beginning.

We have had the notion of the “perfect body” through mass media, and often we are encouraged to do anything we can to be thin and flawless to reach this perfection. If society and the media keep setting a standard for beauty, we will continue to aim towards these- sometimes unachievable- standards. Therefore, it is important to tell children what “real beauty” looks like. As a toy that each girl might have, Barbie’s transformation is a good start to break the stereotype of “beauty”. Girls are playing with dolls who are similar to themselves, in terms of body shapes, skin tones and hairstyles.

Moreover, seeing Ashley Graham in the Role Models series steps further. Ashley is an American model who is popular in the modelling industry, not because of her slim body, but by her achievements and body confidence. Here lies “real beauty”. When we feel confident, and do like what we really are, we embody real beauty.

Image courtesy of Yunqi Huo

With stereotypes, people tend to believe that women are emotional and should stay at home to take care of the family. It shouldn’t limit any girls’ possibilities from the beginning of their life. No matter boys or girls, we are free to imagine anything we want to be. Barbie’s advertising video tells this and Nicola Adams OBE in Barbie’s ‘Shero’ range proves it. Born in the UK, Adams won a gold medal during the Women’s Boxing event in the London 2012 Olympics. She then won a second in the Rio Olympic Games. Women in sports usually don’t gain as much attention as men. However, many inspiring women from diverse industries encourage us to choose what we really like. No matter what stereotypes are, it is always important to do what we want to do.

Someone, however, comments that brands like Mattel are manipulating customers because of their own benefits. Although it seems these brands are calling for gender equality, they might just use this popular topic to attract attention. As women are the main customers of these products, these producers often show that they support gender equality to make a good impression. Often though, this is more for commercial reasons. It is possible that Mattel are carrying out this transformation just to sell Barbie, rather than trying to break gender stereotypes and achieve equality.

However, we can’t deny that brands like Mattel are changing to meet consumer values. People in contemporary society have come to understand gender inequality much better than they have in the past, and are therefore trying to break stereotypes. As a toy company, Mattel’s new commercial direction becomes more important because what it conveys to children really helps them to build their social values. No matter the reason of Barbie’s transformation, I believe that it does help to break stereotypes of women in the meantime. From “You can be anything” advertising to realistic products and modelled Role Models, Barbie has taken a big step forward to support gender equality.

Many more steps need to be taken to truly break stereotypes and achieve gender equality, but I also believe that this is a good place to start.

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