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Mattell’s Top Designer Defends Barbie’s ‘Unrealistic’ Body

Here’s one we found fascinating: Mattell has obviously gotten a lot of criticism in recent years for presenting young girls with an unattainable standard via Barbie, “the most popular fashion doll ever produced.”

We were particularly taken with the “this is what Barbie would look like with the average 19-year-old girl’s body” project by artist Nickolay Lamm.

Now, despite the enthusiasm of the press release above, Mattell’s sales have declined.

In a Fast.CoDesign piece published this week, Barbie’s lead designer finally addresses critics.

In the interview, VP of design Kim Culmone defends the product in a measured way:

“Barbie’s body was never designed to be realistic. She was designed for girls to easily dress and undress. And she’s had many bodies over the years, ones that are poseable, ones that are cut for princess cuts, ones that are more realistic.

…her body has to be able to accommodate how the clothes will fit her.”

She also says the company doesn’t plan to respond to criticism by parting with tradition:

“Unless for some reason in the future, there’s a real reason to change the body–because of either a design imperative or functional imperative–heritage is important to us.”

Finally, she argues that Barbie doesn’t directly contribute to body image issues because young girls realize that the doll is part of a fantasy—and the true influencers are their parents and friends:

“…girls’ perceptions are so different than grown ups’ perceptions about what real is and what real isn’t, and what the influences are…peers, moms, parents…social circles.”

Many young women with body image issues (and related research) will probably disagree with that point. Culmone’s description is somewhat at odds with Barbie’s history as well. The doll’s predecessor Lilli, which first appeared in Germany in 1952, was “essentially a sex toy” (at least according to HowStuffWorks).

We’re not sure how Mattell will defend Barbie in the future while under pressure to increase sales, but we weren’t too convinced by Culmone’s argument.

[Image via Nickolay Lamm]

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