Toymaker Mattel announced disappointing earnings yesterday, missing analysts projections by $0.10 per share. One reason profits were discouraging has been the decline in popularity of the iconic Barbie doll, sales of which fell 12% — the fourth quarter in a row that Barbie turnover declined year-over-year.
According to Felicia Hendrix, an analyst at Barclays, part of the reason for slumping Barbie sales is that toy buyers are increasingly attracted to Mattel’s other offerings like the American Girl Doll and the Monster High Dolls — a line of part-human, part-monster teens launched three years ago. Of course, this raises the question: Why, after more than 50 years of massive popularity, are little girls turning their backs on Barbie?
One possible explanation is body image. Traditionally, Barbie has been criticized for her too-thin frame, heavy makeup, and impossibly large cup-size, and some parents may now be deciding to give their little girls dolls that are, shall we say, a bit more flawed. Mary Shearman, a PhD candidate in gender, sexuality and women’s studies Simon Fraser University, speculated in an article in the Globe and Mail that Mattel may find themselves leaning on their non-Barbie dolls more and more as parents and children seek out more relatable dolls:
“There was a sense that you wanted to expose little girls to role models that were a little more diverse and not so stereotypical, so they tried to make Barbie active and gave her all kinds of activities to do and tried to make her more interesting than a beauty queen.”
Parents have reason to be anxious. In a 2006 study at the University of Sussex, researchers compared the effects of exposing five-to-eight-year-old girls to images of Barbie versus images of Emme — a full-figured doll that has been endorsed by the American Dietetic Association to help promote positive body image. Those girls exposed to Barbie reported lower body esteem and a greater desire to be thin. The study concluded, “Early exposure to dolls epitomizing an unrealistically thin body ideal may damage girls’ body image, which would contribute to an increased risk of disordered eating and weight cycling.”