Fashion + Disability

Fashion, Disability and Barbie: From Damaging to Diverse

A generation of underrepresentation?

In a world of Instagram and photoshop, the lines between online and offline reality are becoming blurred; why can’t we see something from the real world for once? Fashion and disability is something that we don’t discuss enough, and Barbie are beginning to catch on…

Disability and finding accessible fashion are ongoing issues, never mind the underrepresentation that comes along with it for disabled persons. Representation is the key word here. And believe it or not, Barbie has a big part to play regarding this matter. Barbie was once a part of these unachievable beauty standards we are constantly faced with, depicting only tall and slim dolls. No one should feel excluded from the fashion that the mainstream audience consume. Thus, brands making changes to the way they make fashion accessible is imperative in our current climate today. Refreshingly, Barbie in 2020 goes far beyond the tall and slim stereotype. We are beginning to see more inclusion and diversity, especially with regards to disability and children’s understanding of it.

Imagination, life is your creation…

As a young girl I loved to play with my Barbies. They enabled me to create a world that I wanted to be a part of in the future. I hoped to become as stylish and confident as Barbie; her life (and body) seemed so perfect. Naively, I didn’t think about the children who didn’t have a role model to look up to that faced the same challenges as them. Barbie only represented the perfect and ideal body type. In turn, this suggested that only Barbie herself could wear and enjoy the fun, fashionable garments that accompany the doll. Barbie subsequently failed to represent disability within their narrative, which is something that 14.1 million people in the UK suffer from. Seems like too big a figure not to represent within their brand, don’t you think?

Lo and behold, in June 2019, Mattel (manufacturer of Barbie) came out with their ‘Fashionistas’ line, including dolls that are wheelchair and prosthetic leg users. Mattel seemed to think of everything, including a ramp to make the Dreamhouse accessible for wheelchair users. According to The Guardian, Mattel have received numerous requests for wheelchairs to be included in Barbie’s range. Finally, disabled dolls are a part of the fashionable narrative. I can’t imagine the joy this has brought to disabled children who feel underrepresented. Equally, this will be a huge relief for parents who just want their child to express their sense of self. For too long, parents have been left to their devices to try and fashion something that meets their child’s needs. Barbie have recognised their responsibility to represent disability. Through Barbie’s dolls, parents can now show their children that they are represented, and they can do anything, to use Barbie’s slogan!

Be anything, do everything

Note how the title ‘Fashionistas’ doesn’t reference the fact that the dolls have disabilities. They are just a part of the range because anyone can be a Fashionista, no matter their body type or the challenges they face in life! I love the message that this promotes to young children; Barbie are teaching children the importance of inclusion, whilst proving that everyone can enjoy fashion and the self-expression that comes with it. ‘Fashionistasdolls are designed to reflect the world girls see around them today, offering them infinite ways to play out stories and express their style.’ Barbie once ignored the real world, a world of diversity; now they embrace it. This can only make a positive impact on our children’s attitudes towards how they treat others and notably, their own attitudes towards fashion and accessibility.

We can do anything, right Barbie?

It has been proven that playing with dolls as a child develops skills such as a sense of expression and empathy. Through Barbie representing disability, we can instill the importance of normalising acceptance of all our differences in life. Ultimately, Barbie’s inclusion is inspiring for our young children who do face restrictions. The dolls’ funky, vibrant outfits can only create a positive impression on their own body image and sense of style.

We still have a long way to go with representation, fashion and disability. However, Barbie are finally living up to their slogans that preach positivity and inclusivity. With these new dolls, they are teaching children the most important lesson of them all – they can be anything, and they can be a part of everything that is thrown at them in life!

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