If there is one thing most of us women all over the world have grown up playing with, it is dolls of various sorts. While in rural areas the fancy ones do not usually reach, the slightly privileged ones who grew up in bigger cities had often been gifted Mattel’s uber popular creation ‘Barbie’ by parents and relatives alike. In the midst of all our playtime and dressing ‘Barbie’ up, there seems to have been a well-kept, slightly discomforting mystery that the makers kept from us.
In 2016, Mattel had promised to make ‘Barbie’ a lot more inclusive in terms of body shape and colour. Seems they tried a similar promise back in 1997, and it got broken real bad. They had introduced ‘Share-a-Smile Becky’ in 1997, who was Barbie’s friend and was wheelchair-bound. In no way was she demeaning to the differently-abled as Becky was a Paralympian and the school photographer. Disability advocates showed Mattel a lot of love for this move and 6,000 dolls were sold in the first week.
Happy times did not stay around for very long and issues cropped up when Becky’s wheelchair, it was figured, was too small to make it inside Barbie’s house. So, whosoever designed Barbie’s Dreamhouse sure did not take a Becky into consideration and at the time of the controversy Mattel assured they were looking for ways to fix this. People have tried out the doll and seems she still does not fit into the Dreamhouse in 2017.
Several versions of Becky hit shelves. There was ‘Becky, I’m the School Photographer’, then ‘Sign Language ‘I Love You’ Becky’ and then ‘Paralympic Becky’, but seems like Mattel never changed the Dreamhouse to fit Becky in. After all the changes and even after Mattel reportedly did consider making Becky’s wheelchair smaller, things do not seem very bright for the visibility and inclusive representation Mattel attempted.
Becky soon disappeared from shelves and blogger Karin Hitselberger, herself struck by cerebral palsy and wheelchair-bound, says this speaks volumes about how we see disability. Karin rightly points out how there is always an attempt towards ‘fixing disability’ and not ‘fixing society’ to be inclusive of the differently-abled. Whether or not Mattel’s 2017 inclusivity chapter has the same fate or brings our hopes up remains to be seen.