Barbie maker makes room in the toy box for gender-inclusive dolls
Mattel, the toymaker behind Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars, is now officially woke. The company has launched its first gender-inclusive dolls to encourage more creative play for girls, boys and anyone identifying as both, neither or in between.
The Creatable World doll line, which launched Wednesday, is designed “to keep labels out and invite everyone in” by giving children the freedom to customize their characters, the El Segundo toymaker said in a statement.
The variable doll kits will retail for about $30 and are geared toward children ages 6 and older. They consist of a doll with no gender-identifying features and two hairstyle options — long or short — as well as a variety of outfits and accessories.
Kids can have them put on a jacket, pants, skirts or all of the above, and are encouraged to make creations they can relate to. The dolls in each ofalso come in a variety of skin tones with varying hair textures.
Mattel doesn’t expect Creatable World to affect interest in its long-established (though often criticized) Barbie dolls.
“There’s room in the toy box for all of them,” spokeswoman Michelle Chidoni told The Times.
The Creatable World dolls “have much more youthful, gender-neutral bodies and anatomy so that they can look and appear more relatable,” she said. “Barbie is more aspirational. She has an adult female form, careers and narratives for girls to project their future self on the doll. Creatable World dolls [are for] who they are now today.”
In the couple’s Los Angeles social network alone, several of their friends have chosen not to reveal the gender of their children until the kids are old enough to articulate their identities on their own.
The company said that feedback has been overwhelmingly positive but could not share projections on consumer demand.
“We understand that this line may not be something that everyone wants, but we hope that there’s something they can relate to,” Chidoni said. “The intent is to really introduce more kids to doll play. There are developmental benefits to playing with dolls, and if we can get more kids to see themselves in dolls and to play with dolls, that’s a great thing.”
Reflective of a broader trend of corporations responding to public demands and cultural shifts, the line was about two years in the making after being conceived and grown in-house at Mattel. The company conducted qualitative research, held focus groups and worked with 250 families across five states whose children identified as binary, non-binary, gender-queer and otherwise. And they wanted a doll line free of labels.
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“This line allows all kids to express themselves freely, which is why it resonates so strongly with them. We’re hopeful Creatable World will encourage people to think more broadly about how all kids can benefit from doll play,” said Kim Culmone, senior vice president of Mattel Fashion Doll Design, in a statement.
Following the announcement, media watchdog GLAAD praised the toy company for raising the bar for inclusion and offering representation for children and parents who never saw themselves represented in toys and dolls.
“Mattel’s new line of gender-inclusive dolls encourages children to be their authentic selves and is the latest sign that toys and media aimed at kids are expanding to reflect how diverse children and their families actually are,” the organization said in a statement to The Times.
The new line coincides with Hollywood’s push for more representation in film and television, as well as the trends of Americans seeing value in steering children toward toys traditionally geared toward the opposite gender.
A 2017 Pew Research study found that about 76% of the public said it is a somewhat or very good thing for parents to steer girls toward boy-oriented toys and activities. A smaller share, but still a majority (64%), said parents should encourage boys to play with toys and participate in activities usually associated with girls, the study said.
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According to Time, last year the company did away with “boys” and “girls” toy divisions in favor of nongendered classifications, such as dolls or cars.
Mattel has struggled in recent years with falling sales, operating losses, a heavy debt load and recurring changes in senior management. Its stock, which closed unchanged at $10.99 a share Wednesday, has tumbled 32% in the last 12 months and is down from $30 a share three years ago.
Last year the company lost $531 million on sales of $4.5 billion. But Mattel has said its current turnaround program is making progress, thanks in part to a $650-million cost-cutting plan and a wider marketing of Mattel’s toy brands in the entertainment and digital fields.
The Creatable World dolls can be purchased at major retailers online, including Amazon, Target and Walmart.
Times staff writer James F. Peltz contributed to this report.
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