Mattel Makes History By Launching Gender-Neutral Dolls
Mattel helped define gender norms, with Barbie serving as a symbol of gender conformity for decades. The iconic doll is known for her long blonde hair, tiny waistline, and high heels — all things that have long characterized traditional femininity. But as conversations about gender and identity continue to shift cultural perspective, the company is departing from its outdated creations. On Wednesday, Mattel announced the first line of “gender-inclusive” dolls.
The six dolls in Mattel’s new “Creatable World” line are not designed as male or female and more resemble a pre-adolescent figure — no breasts, sculpted booties, broad shoulders or six packs. They also come with kits that include wigs in both long and short hairstyles, along with a mix of fashions (think skirts and pants). Each doll can be a boy, a girl, neither or both.
In a statement, senior vice president of Mattel Fashion Doll Design Kim Culmone says that Mattel “felt it was time to create a doll line free of labels” while “the world continues to celebrate the positive impact of inclusivity.”
The new line was roughly two years in the making and the company did extensive research before creating its first gender-neutral doll, which included speaking with kids, parents, doctors, and other experts. “Through research, we heard that kids don’t want their toys dictated by gender norms,” Culmone explains. “This line allows all kids to express themselves freely which is why it resonates so strongly with them.”
“We never talked to a kid who didn’t flip from joy when they saw the doll,” adds Monica Dreger, who oversees research of new toys as Mattel’s vice president of global consumer insights. The doll “Kids saw an open canvas and felt they were in charge of their play.”
And that is the whole point. The company invites everyone to play with the new gender-neutral dolls, even though they know they are potentially alienating a portion of the population that will no doubt push back. The initial marketing materials include a group of kids who go by various pronouns — him, her, them, xem — and the slogan “a doll line designed to keep labels out.”
Fans on social media are praising the company for evolving. “Thank you for this best thing u created for this generation,” one user shared on Instagram. “This is brilliant! So wonderful for kids and kids at heart to explore gender expression!” said another.
This isn't Mattel's first foray into inclusive dolls and likely won't be their last. In 2016, Barbie embraced body diversity with a range of tall, petite, and curvy dolls. A year later, the brand introduced a hijab-wearing doll for their “Sheroes” line. The company hopes to further broaden the boundaries of playtime with gender-neutral dolls. “We’re hopeful Creatable World will encourage people to think more broadly about how all kids can benefit from doll play,” says Culmone.
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