News Alert: Barbie sales fell a whopping 16% in 2014. And this is no fluke. The year earlier, the brand’s sales fells 13%. Oy.
Time Magazine published a story about the doll’s demise. The reason cited for the brand’s dramatic fall? Changing values around body image. Barbie has tried to appeal to these changing norms. Barbie attempted to appear more “real” by adding a line of dolls with different skin tones, less hour-glass shaped bodies, and smaller breasts. Nevertheless the doll has quickly lost relevance. The story explains that our culture’s embracing of curvier bodies has left Barbie in the dust. It cites the increasing popularity of plus-sized models as an example. After all if Vogue can celebrate full-figured women then you know times have changed!
But I’m not sure this is the whole reason. After all, as I mentioned above, the brand made attempts at changing Barbie’s appearance. I submit that the reason Barbie is dying has more to do with what the play experience it offers than how the doll looks. Sure, I’m all for showing girls an image of women that is healthier and more realistic. But I feel that conversation has happened and has been addressed. I actually think we’re starting to tire from it. I think the issue is different now. Girls want to PLAY differently than before. Girls and boys alike are more sophisticated than we were a while back. Thanks to the advent of technology, gaming, and coding, kids want to expand their brains. They want to challenge themselves, explore many possibilities, be hyper creative. Unfortunately Barbie “play” focuses on girls’ outfits and cutsie accoutrement (think Barbie bath tub, Barbie bikes, Barbie tennis rackets).
Dolls have their place. I, for one, loved my Barbies. I could create stories and play out scenarios (let alone give them cool coifs with a pair of scissors :)). But nowadays, our kids want to tap all different sides of play when they play. I’m not saying Barbie should just have a website. Of course they already do. I’m saying the Barbie experience needs to be more multidimensional, sophisticated and mind expanding.
The body image issue is still something we have to deal with. But instead of talking about it so much, how about we spend more time finding other ways for girls to feel good about themselves. Beauty, fashion and other Barbie-like elements can stay alive, even thrive, as long as brands embrace a type of play that unleashes girls’ intelligence, creativity and ingenuity.