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There’s a new Barbie and she has a wheelchair

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Emily Baker
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Mattel has announced a new range of Barbies with disabilities in a welcome show of diversity

When you hear the name Barbie, what do you imagine? Most likely, you remember the thin, white plastic doll with cascading blonde hair and impossible proportions most of us used to play with as little girls. But in recent years, Barbie’s creator Mattel has made an effort to be more representative of various races and sizes including petite, curvy and small dolls in the manufacturer’s Fashionista range.

And now Barbie is about to become even more inclusive, with the debut of two disabled dolls at the request of the brand’s fans.

Later this year, Barbie fans will be able to buy a wheelchair-using doll and a doll with a removable prosthetic leg. The wheelchair itself was designed in collaboration with a specialist team at the University of California and can be used by any doll within the Made To Move range, while the prosthetic limb was created with the help of a 12-year-old girl, Jordan Reeves, who has a prosthetic arm. 

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Vice president of Barbie Design, Kim Culmone, told TeenVogue that it was Reeve’s idea to make the leg removable, pointing out that the team hadn’t realised how important it would be “to someone living with this experience.” A wheelchair ramp will also go on sale, which can be attached to Barbie’s DreamHouse, making it more accessible for the new disabled dolls.

Mattel hopes the introduction of disabled dolls into their Fashionista range will expand the idea of the many guises of beauty Barbie represents. “As a brand, we can elevate the conversation around physical disabilities by including them into our fashion doll line to further showcase a multi-dimensional view of beauty and fashion,” reads the news release announcing the new dolls.

A similar misfire came with the publication of I Can Be a Computer Engineer, a Barbie book intended to encourage young girls to learn about technology. However, one of the scenes depicted Barbie accepting the help of two men to fix a broken computer, after one of them claims “it will go faster if Brian and I help!” The classic case of mansplaining was met with such contempt that an alternative story - Feminist Hacker Barbie - was created, allowing users to change the text of the original picture book.

The representation of disability is certainly a welcome leap in the right direction for Barbie, and an indication that Mattel are making a real effort to change perceptions of the doll’s roots. And with the news that the new dolls will also feature new hair textures, braids and a less defined waist, it seems things are only looking up for the most popular doll in the world.

Images: Mattel

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