In the times when technology hadn’t taken over our lives, kids occupied themselves with things such as toy cars, kitchen sets and Barbies. These Barbies were a Mattel Product and a favourite in almost every girl’s toy-chest. Over the years, Mattel created hordes and hordes of Barbies of different kinds, based on various themes, functionalities, freebies and so on. But not all of these were able to win their audiences’ hearts. Some ended being more controversial than cute and here’s a list of such Barbies that were not well-received in the market.
Somehow, even today, the idea of playing with a pregnant doll just seems kind of wrong. But Mattel introduced Midge Hadley aka Pregnant Barbie as Barbie’s best friend in 1963. She was part of the Happy Family Line which comprised of her long-time boyfriend Alan Sherwood and three children other than the one in her belly. Though in principle, it may have been a good way of naturalising birth and pregnancy for children, parents were concerned that this Barbie’s age was unsuitable for childbirth, thus giving children the wrong values and notions.
Mattel partnered with Nabisco Oreo Cookies back in 1997 to create the Oreo Fun Barbie which was expected to promote sales for both companies. However, they went ahead and made the Orea Fun Barbie in two varieties – White dolls and Black ones. The rationale was to have a product that appealed to a racially diverse audience. But critics were worried about the association of Black women with Oreos suggesting that they, like the cookie, were black on the outside and white on the inside. The media furore and low sales caused Mattel to recall the product.
Mattel’s first handicapped doll, Share a Smile Barbie was a step in the right direction vis-a-vis consumer inclusiveness. However, this Barbie in a wheelchair was charged with having hair so long as would get stuck in the wheels of her carriage. In response to this allegation Mattel tweaked the doll but some still had an issue with it. When a 17-year-old student with cerebral palsy pointed out that Becky’s wheelchair would not fit Barbie’s Dream House elevator, the company discontinued this Barbie instead of remodelling all accessories to accommodate just one doll.
In 2009, the Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie was introduced. She had a heart tattoo on her lower back and came with accessories that allowed users to apply temporary tattoos on their skin as well. Many people believed that this was inappropriate exposure for young, impressionable girls who would be encouraged to get permanent tattoos like their Barbies from a very young age.
Though it is a biological fact that female bodies undergo change as girls age, Mattel’s incorporation of this fact into their Growing Up Skipper Barbie range was not taken well. This doll, first introduced in 1975, was supposed to be Barbie’s younger sister. Her USP was that her pubescent breast grew bigger on rotating her arm, supposedly mimicking natural processes. Critics found this feature distastefully honest, causing Mattel to recall and reintroduce this Barbie with smaller, permanent breasts.
The idea of a slumber-party-ready doll sounds nice, but Mattel’s 1965 version was not widely acceptable to people for one specific reason. The Slumber Party Barbie came with pink satin pyjamas, pink curlers and a weighing scale set to 110lbs. People found this to be an unrealistic weight projection in relation with Barbie’s real-life height. Also, the accessories with this doll included a book “How to Lose Weight” with one singular directive: Don’t Eat. Preposterous, we say!
Barbies have been charged with reinforcing societal standards of beauty which deem slim figures, blonde hair and blue eyes as the best features. Add to this, a bunch of Teen Talk Barbies which played upon other feminine stereotypes, and you have multiple controversies brewing. Each Teen Talk Barbie was designed to speak four out of 270 phrases including lines such as “I love shopping!”, “Wanna have a pizza party?” and “Math class is tough”. The latter statement was considered to be particularly problematic and though the Barbie wasn’t recalled, Mattel offered to swap dolls that spoke “Math class is tough” with another doll that didn’t use that phrase.
Come 2008, Mattel introduced the Black Canary Barbie which swapped the girl-next-door persona for a bolder avatar. This doll wore a leather jacket, fish-net stalking and dark makeup, leading critics to charge it with projecting a highly sexualized image of femininity. Some parents even saw her as an S&M Barbie that was completely inappropriate for young children to be playing with. The sales of this doll were naturally far lower as compared to other Barbies.
In 2010, Mattel released a Barbie that was a tribute to the new digital age. She came with a video camera in her chest which could be used for recording videos up to 30 minutes long which could then be transferred onto a computer for viewing as well. The FBI found this Barbie to be potentially dangerous in aiding production of child pornography. However, even as the doll had many critics rallying against it, store sales were high reflecting its popularity.
We have to admit that over the span of some 5 decades, Barbie has assumed various social and professional roles including those of nurses, doctors, astronauts, teachers, scientists and even the President. However, in 2014, when Barbie was made to appear on the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated that tagged it as “The doll that started it all”, many people were highly put off by it. They not only thought her undeserving of the cover for she wasn’t a real person, but also found the very notion offensive. The doll was seen as promoting unhealthy standards of beauty and bodily “perfection” among young girls, though Mattel was completely unapologetic and unwilling to accept this allegation.