Last week, Mattel, the manufacturer of Barbie dolls, announced their iconic toy will soon be available in a variety of body shapes (tall, petite, and curvy), skin tones, and hairstyles. Which means that Barbie’s image, historically a depiction of a young woman with pale skin, platinum blonde hair, and mile-long legs, will finally be able to more accurately resemble my Ashkenazi Jewish roots and—surprise, surprise—hers, too!
Barbie’s story began in 1959 when Ruth Mosko Handler (née Moskowitz), the daughter of Polish-Jewish immigrants, debuted her Barbie doll invention at the New York Toy Fair. Handler, who died in 2002, was inspired to create a three-dimensional plastic doll that could be dressed in a wardrobe of micro-fashion after she saw the limitations of the paper dolls her daughter Barbara was playing with. So Handler, with the support of her husband, Elliot, the co-founder of Mattel, Inc., created the Barbie Doll and named it after their daughter. Shortly thereafter came the Ken doll, which they named after their son. The dolls’ popularity exploded instantaneously; just one year later the Handlers took Mattel public, with a valuation of $10 million. And the rest, they say, is history.
Now, almost 57 years and over a billion Barbies later, Jewish children—and many other people for whom tall, skinny, and blonde is not the norm—will be able to purchase a version of world’s most popular doll that actually looks like us. For too long, playing pretend with the Barbie meant, at least for me, implicitly pretending my roots were closer to Scandinavian origins—ironic especially because Barbie and I share the same Polish Jewish ancestry. With Mattel’s latest move, fantasy might finally feel (and look) a bit more real. All I can say is that it’s about damn time.