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Barbie doll’s new bodies raise self-image questions

DAILY NEWS CONTRIBUTOR

Tuesday, February 16, 2016, 6:00 AM

3TP EUO NARCH/NARCH30 SALESOUTHANDOUT/REUTERS

New Barbie doll body shapes of petite, tall and curvy are seen next to the traditional Barbie (l.).

Barbie has a new look, offering petite, tall and curvy body options in addition to the doll’s 1959 original.

A new body, combined with the choice of skin tones and hair textures, begs the question: Will these changes move the plight of women forward or turn young girls around to making a buying decision based only on body image?

In the toy aisle, colored in a rainbow of all shades of pink, young girls stand looking at the display. Their brows furrow as they scan the shelves. Some pensively select a box and look through the clear wrap, studying the face of the doll within.

I wish I knew more about what they were thinking. Will sales increase if they can buy a doll that looks like them?

Through its own consumer testing Mattel reports some children calling curvy Barbie “fat” and mothers concerned if buying a curvy Barbie as a gift would be insulting to the child or her mother.

Will curvy Barbie be left behind, only to end up on a clearance shelf? Or will the accepted models of curvy women make the doll more appealing?

We know most buying decisions are made based on the emotional connection to the product. Women don’t buy an outfit because of the color, texture or shape of the outfit. They buy it because of the experience they are going to have wearing the outfit. The confidence they will feel at that board meeting, on that first date or while traveling.

While parents cheer on Mattel for its respect for diversity and for offering a Barbie that looks like its buyer, I wonder what is more important in a buying choice — body figure or the play experience itself?

Barbie offers over 150 career choices, from aerobics instructor to CEO Barbie. In 1990 she even ran for president. Barbie has many talents and is not limited to the impact she can have in the world. She opens the door to possibility. How she spends her day is quite different than it was in 1959. Will Barbie continue to give the message to young girls that they can be anything they want to be?

I am excited to see how Barbie evolves with today’s consumer. As a business coach, I also wonder about the impact on Mattel’s bottom line. Four bodies mean four different product lines and accessories.

From the outside, this could look like a boost in revenue streams; looking within the company it means added supplier chains, varying production, quality control variation and possibly disengaged employees, who like most humans are resistant to change.

I raised two sons; my sister, four girls. Periodically, the unprompted call of “To infinity and beyond!” was heard behind a closet door. In contrast, my sister’s house was littered with Barbie heads, clothing and heels.

I ponder how Mattel will do with this new line of business. With differing clothing sizes and shoes, I’m curious how today’s mothers will know which accessories go with which doll. But then again, I have a hard time managing my own closet.

Debora J. McLaughlin is author of “The Renegade Leader, 9 Success Strategies Driven Leaders Use to Ignite People,” “Performance & Profits” and “Running in High Heels, How to Lead with Influence, Impact & Ingenuity.” CEO of The Renegade Leader Coaching & Consulting Group, she and her team unleash performance, positivity and possibility in individuals, teams and organizations.

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