Plus-Size Barbie Sparks Debate About the Classic Doll’s Future

A recent posting in a Facebook group, Plus Size Modeling, has raised a fascinating question about Mattel's (NASDAQ: MAT  ) classic doll, Barbie -- "Should (Mattel) start making plus-sized Barbie dolls?"

At the time of this writing, the post, which comes with an artist's conception of a plus-size Barbie, has attracted over 40,000 "Likes" -- the equivalent of a "Yes" vote for the plus-size Barbie. Meanwhile, there were over 4,700 comments -- an equivalent of a "No" vote.

Source: Facebook, author's edits.

Barbie has been around for 53 years, and the doll has often been criticized for teaching impressionable young girls some questionable life lessons. The most common criticisms are her unrealistic figure, which some say could lead to girls becoming anorexic, and her shallow personality.

A 1965 version of the doll came with a bathroom scale permanently set to 110 pounds, and a 1992 talking version known as Teen Talk Barbie rattled off one-liners such as, "Will we ever have enough clothes?," "I love shopping!," and "Math class is tough!"

That's not to say Mattel hasn't improved Barbie over the years, though.

In 1967, Mattel released the first African-American Barbie, a bold move during a tumultuous time in America. Additional Barbie dolls from other ethnic groups were released over the following years. In 1997, Mattel widened the doll's waist to fit more realistic, contemporary fashions.

Plus-size or obese?

The plus-size Barbie debate, however, poses an interesting question -- is the artist's depiction plus-size or obese? Critics have pointed out that the design, with a double chin, suggests that plus-size Barbie is not just curvy, but unhealthily obese.

To clarify things, we should compare some statistics -- 60% of American women reportedly identify themselves as "plus-size". However, according to a Gallup-Healthways poll, only 26% are obese -- defined as having a BMI (body mass index) equal to or greater than 30.

While the artist may have missed the mark of creating a realistic, curvy Barbie with the mockup, the debate is still valid.

Sure, Barbie is a stylized doll, and dolls don't have to be realistically proportioned. However, Barbie is different, since the doll has the body of a grown woman and is targeted at young girls.

Therefore, should Mattel make a more realistically proportioned version of Barbie? Perhaps they should, since a dramatic change could actually help the company sell more Barbie dolls in the long run.

What Barbie means for Mattel

To understand why Mattel should be concerned about the public perception of Barbie, we need to see how important the franchise is to the company's top line. Mattel's business is divided into three business segments: Mattel Girls & Boys Brands, Fisher-Price Brands, and American Girl.

Let's see what these businesses sell and how they fared last quarter:

Business Segment

3Q revenue

YOY growth

Notable Brands

Mattel Girls & Boys Brands

$1.48 billion

8%

Barbie, Monster High, Hot Wheels, Matchbox

Fisher-Price Brands

$789.3 million

0%

Fisher-Price, Power Wheels

American Girl

$122.3 million

20%

My American Girl, Bitty Baby, Historical dolls

Source: Mattel 3Q report.

Digging deeper into Mattel's Girls & Boys Brands segment, we can see that Barbie products actually account for 30% of the Girls & Boys Brands' segment's revenue and 18% of Mattel's top line.

That's why Barbie's future is so important to Mattel.

Sub-group

Barbie
(dolls, accessories, other products)

Other Girls Brands (including Monster High)

Wheels
(toy cars)

Entertainment
(Radica Games and other games)

3Q sales

$443.3 million

$447.7 million

$241.7 million

$347.0 million

YOY growth

3%

28%

(9%)

7%

Source: Mattel 3Q report.

Unfortunately, Barbie just hasn't been all that popular lately, posting a meager 3% year-over-year growth in sales last quarter.

However, that 3% growth was extremely significant for Mattel, since it was the first time in four consecutive quarters that the Barbie franchise posted positive sales growth.

Comparing Miley Cyrus to Doris Day

Another line of Mattel dolls, Monster High, has been growing at a much faster rate.

Although Mattel didn't disclose the exact number of Monster High dolls sold, the company primarily attributed the 28% gain in its Other Girls Brands to rising sales of the "Goth Barbies," which debuted in July 2010.

Monster High dolls. Source: Company website.

The Monster High dolls were created by Garrett Sander, with illustrations by Kellee Riley. The line features offspring and relatives of classic monsters such as Medusa, Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The franchise, like Barbie, also includes TV specials, direct-to-DVD movies, books, accessories, and software.

Yet the popularity of Monster High is a double-edged sword. It boosts Mattel's top line while cannibalizing Barbie sales. More importantly, it highlights another image problem that Mattel has with Barbie -- although Monster High dolls are just as thin as Barbie dolls, they're simply newer, edgier, and cooler. It's like comparing Miley Cyrus to Doris Day.

Is it time to reboot Barbie?

For over five decades, Barbie has been the "All-American" doll. However, the role and image of the woman in American society has changed dramatically during that period.

An interesting comparison can be made between Barbie and Hasbro's (NASDAQ: HAS  ) G.I. Joe toys.

Hasbro's original G.I. Joes, made in the 1960s, resembled Ken dolls with uniforms, scars, and over-sized dog tags. By the 1980s, however, boys' tastes had changed -- they were obsessed with comic book-like heroes and villains. In response, Hasbro rebooted G.I. Joe in 1982 under the brand "Real American Hero," with the help of a Marvel comic book series and an animated series. The classic soldiers were replaced by superhero-like soldiers wielding special weapons such as katanas and laser guns -- forming a new foundation for the franchise that has been expanded upon by the two recent live-action films.

With Barbie, it may be time for Mattel to consider a similar reboot. After all, its own Monster High dolls could soon eclipse the classic doll in popularity.

The big question, however, will be how to reboot Barbie. Will she be an astronaut, a business woman, or a doctor instead? Will she have more realistic body proportions than her classic model? Will Mattel make model-size, regular-size, and plus-size versions of the doll just to satisfy everyone?

What do you think Mattel should do with Barbie, dear readers? Let me know in the comments section below!

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Read/Post Comments (43) | Recommend This Article (10)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 9:39 AM, mividaloca wrote:

    How about NORMAL sized Barbie? Barbie and her proportions would not even be a super model today.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 12:44 PM, musicdelite wrote:

    By the looks of this picture Barbie is now OBESE. How about making her what is considered the average size for women (12-14) and call her Fabulous Barbie! We need to stop putting the label of Plus Size on anyone over the size 8 and in fact get rid of the term Plus Size! We need to stop separating the larger sizes from the smaller sizes in department stores. Do you know how humiliating it is for a young girl to have to walk over to the area with the big sign that reads "Plus Size"?? Maybe we should start calling size 6 and under the"undernourshed size"

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 2:08 PM, karenmiller wrote:

    I agree with musicdelite, this is not a plus sized Barbie it's an unhealthy Barbie. In fact, it is as unhealthy as the "regular" Barbie!!! Why must Barbie have three chins? Her body doesn't actually look that bad...closer to an actual person, but seriously, three chins?

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 3:04 PM, MJay wrote:

    Disgusting, so lets just encourage obesity and unhealthy eating to look like this. If this is average for society, then society needs to change.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 3:42 PM, PlusSizeBarbie wrote:

    You can thank McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken for this message. May you live long and prosper basing your lives around the idea that every American woman should be based upon a piece of plastic.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 4:15 PM, MissDrivel wrote:

    "You can thank McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken for this message...."

    Blaming fast food places for obesity trends is ridiculous. How about blaming the people who lack the common sense not to eat there on a daily basis instead. That's the underlying problem with this country though - everyone blaming other people for their problems instead of taking responsibility for themselves.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 4:23 PM, cLOWNgOD wrote:

    This is a great idea. I would suggest that the next model comes with an expandable neck so you can purchase additional chins (UP TO NINE OR EVEN 11!!!) and snap them on!! This way your kid can snap chins on Barbie as she gulps down deep fried, high fructose corn sweetener and BGH laced crap! This way Barbies girth can keep up. ..at least for a while.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 4:40 PM, SooZeeKwew wrote:

    I am a size 8. The original Barbie is probably right around a size 2. This new one looks like she's probably around an 18 or so I am guessing. I think the chin looks like it belongs on a much larger person even and one that has some sort of water retention problem or something. I really think there should be more of a happy middle. At least one that looks healthy. Healthy should be everyone's ultimate goal after all. What about having a doll that looks like a healthy size 12 with no double chins? Maybe even instead of having a big belly and boobs making one that has a bit of muscle tone on her body? It has to be either stick thin or unhealthy / obese looking? I'd like to see a doll that is healthy looking with a bit of muscle that doesn't wear all pink or all goth ... maybe Barbie can have a Harley and hiking boots or something... lol... I am half joking but I kinda mean it too...

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 5:33 PM, Brownie262 wrote:

    Mercy magnolias, look at those teeny feet bearing all that weight, and in proportionately 6" heels. She's gonna be Bad Knees Barbie, and Achilles Tendonitis Barbie, and if she takes a tumble off those heels she'll be Torn ACL Barbie. How about making an athletic-looking Barbie, like 5K Barbie in a singlet, shorts, and running shoes?

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 5:51 PM, panasaya wrote:

    I am plus size women and I do not have a double chin much less 2. This not a great idea and- would buy it?

    Now I would get rid of the double chin and thin her a little and and age her and make her barbie's grand mother, come up with a grandfather, and and a mom and dad// maybe a brother and sister. A barbie family / later an aunt and uncle and another set of grand parents. It could come a a whole barbie village reunion. ANOTHER Idea:

    The Barbie Story /Family History/ starting with a mom and dad and baby barbie.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 7:02 PM, wheeley wrote:

    I asked my 9 year old granddaughter her thoughts & her reply was no. Her brother said it didn't look like Barbie. I agree with many posts of others,find a middle size,not plump & not skinny.The lady that said she was a size 8 has the idea, why make Barbie look like she is not healthy.Over weight is just as bad as under weight,why not focus on a Barbie that lives a balanced life of proper diet & exercise.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 8:56 PM, daynuh wrote:

    What do all the Facebook commenters have against double chins? I'm 119 and I have one! lol

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 10:14 PM, 2locks wrote:

    Today's Barbie is no different than having an obese Barbie. It is all in how you look at it, really. The Barbie that we have seen forever has educated our younger adolescent teenaged girls that to be accepted is to be thin, anorexic, bulimic, and over exercised. So, the question is what again? I don't know....whatever the REAL deal is....I say we need to go with that!

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 11:41 PM, bandgeek24 wrote:

    personally, i think definately needs some realistic reshaping. i believe that regular barbie has an unrealistic body shape. not all girls are anorexic! they need to make a barbie with larger arms, curvier body, and shapeful legs. but plus size is going overboard!! we should have toys that teach children that no matter what our body shape is, every girl is beautiful and unique.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 3:03 AM, daveb wrote:

    If this pic is for real, than it appears top me that they are purposely trying to get the re-shaping Barbie idea to fail. Barbie needs to be reshaped and made more healthy. She needs to look more normal. A plus-sized Barbie is not a bad idea either as well as long as it is not called something like plus-sized ands look better than that. It is like they are trying to say this is what plus-sized girls look like and insult them. It also would be less bad if they wouldn't have such stark contrast in the foot and leg size. she looks like her ankles are ready to break. Bottom line, if they put this doll out their not only will they not get sales, but I believe they will have a backlash from an insulted plus-sized community that could have a big negative impact on their brand.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 4:41 AM, Suzerain wrote:

    @ XSamCroX : wow... this is a CHILDREN's toy... Gross.

    I was raised on Mattel Brands. I had at least 40 barbie dolls growing up and the pretty in pink dream house (that I got to build myself) and so many play sets that I'm surprised Mattel didn't own my parent's house. I still have a few. I played with them religiously, but I have NEVER felt that I had to live up to her body type. I thank my Mom for that, she taught me that toys are just that... toys, and should not be used to set the standard for real life. All of the parents harping about how a doll (regardless of body type proportions, or persona) will ruin our kids and teach them this that or the other needs to quit complaining on the internet and actually SPEND SOME TIME WITH THEIR KIDS and instill in them the values and ideals that will let them grow up to be happy and well adjusted adults.

    That being said, if Mattel wants to revamp Barbie, go for it... However they choose, I don't think it's going to work. There are too many brands to get solid market saturation. Besides that, there has been a major surge away from Dolls in general as more and more of the market is taken up by interactive learning, discovery and directed play toys.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 5:55 AM, Vikktorreah wrote:

    Dolls SMELL. I used to have a Barbie doll briefly when I was round 9 or 10, inherited it from older sister. The thing stunk. What kind of chemical do they put in the rubber? I've handled a few other dolls in my childhood, and they also smelled. I have a daughter and she's not getting any dolls. I get her various balls, jump rope, pogo stick, roller skates, paint set...get the picture?

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 5:59 AM, Vikktorreah wrote:

    I think maybe the doll should be renamed the "Mama June doll."

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 7:45 AM, Aine1987 wrote:

    Personally, I wouldn't buy a Barbie for my daughter. People have made Barbie the icon that she is, stop buying the stupid thing and let it disappear...

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 9:18 AM, suthernwmn wrote:

    This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard of. i have been a plus sized woman for most of my life and I think it is stupid...this is teaching young girls it is okay to be overweight and unhealthy....this doll looks hideous with the fat face, double chins, heavy thighhs and calves. As a child I wanted a doll that was "pretty", a role model.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 9:34 AM, purple87 wrote:

    Growing up I always loved playing with Barbie Dolls, but when my Dad said he was going to work on cars, I was out the door to help him. Barbie never hurt my image of what a woman is supposed to look like. She is a doll. However, a lot of people strive to look like dolls. I don't believe you should make a doll that is impossibly skinny or obese.

    Obesity is running rapid across America. Make the doll look healthy and curvy. If we teach kids when they are young to strive to be healthy and active we can at least help them from falling in the same unhealthy habits that most people have of overeating, eating junk and having a poor self image.

    Why not have Barbies who are like most women? Have attorneys, construction workers, doctors, secretaries, Harley riders, race car drivers, mechanics and many more. Let young girls see you can be anything you want. Focus on the mind. The mind is the most powerful thing anyone can have.

    I think kids need to be healthy and have a good body image, as well as know they can be anything they want when they grow up.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 9:48 AM, Cgal wrote:

    As soon as they come out with a non-white plus-size barbie that group will come out yelling "racist Barbie" we are not all plus-size! < just watch.

    Why don't we just call it what it is?

    FAT

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 10:09 AM, Plcnurse wrote:

    I normally do not comment on anything I read on the internet but this is just ridiculous! I am a nurse practitioner in a state very high in obesity especially in children. It is definitely not alright for them to think it's okay to be obese by making them a "fat" doll. When I talk to my obese children about their weight I explain to them that it is unrealistic to think that any of us are going to look like Barbies or super models but they need to choice to a normal weight for their age because if not it will lead to diabetes and heart problem in the future. The new obese Barbie should come with a glucometer and blood pressure cuff!!!

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 12:52 PM, calibrat24 wrote:

    Umm Barbie is a Doll. People know this right she is not a real person. I played with barbies growing up and I knew she was a DOLL. I didn't expect to grow up looking like her. Keep her the same or change her she will still be just a doll and people will find something else to complain about. I just don't get why people make such a big deal over a doll that has been around for over 50 years

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 4:46 PM, jojogunn wrote:

    I like the idea of this plus size doll, because people come in all shapes and sizes. I think one in a size 14 would be perfect because they say that's the size of the average woman. I never would have thought we would have ever had to care about such things, I played with Barbie for years and never ever thought about her size, it must be a sign of the times, the world we live in that little girls are really mimicking a doll as how they should look. it's sad, but if it helps I'm all for it.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 5:20 PM, Dtuttle wrote:

    I think a plus size Barbie is great, but I see one flaw, A lot of Plus sized women do Not have a double chin, I think that's a design flaw on this doll !

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 5:45 PM, 167143 wrote:

    No offence, but this is a TERRIBLE idea. She's a DOLL. No child should be able to play with this! That is telling the children that obesity is Okay. It's not! Make a doll that looks HEATHLY. Although this is awful, get rid of the old doll! She looks like she's starving herself. Why do children think you have to be skin and bones to be attractive? Why do they compare themselves to dolls? The Children are the future. They shouldn't be starving themselves or thinking obesity is Okay. Just make a HEATHLY doll. If you make this doll, the next "plus sized" doll should have an expandable neck so you can buy more chins. If you make "Plus sized" dolls, you might as well make them curse, smoke, drink, and do drugs. This is sad. Just sad.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 8:06 PM, Healthiest1 wrote:

    The plus sized Barbie is for girls that don't know when to stop shoveling the food in their faces (after they watch their parents with their shovels.)

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 8:28 PM, Dunimus wrote:

    It looks like Honey Boo-Boo's mother.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 10:14 PM, aj5150 wrote:

    This artist's interpretation just goes to show how anymore, people seem to use the words curvy and plus-sized interchangeably, & how some seem to think both are polite ways of saying fat. Which isn't true. A curvy women can be a size 2 or a size 20, & a plus-sized woman isn't necessarily curvy. And not all plus-sized women are fat. But either way, if they were to do this, the doll wouldn't sell. Even if they made one that wasn't like the photo, that just looked like your average woman that's a size 12 or so, it's not going to go over. People will continue to buy the traditionally sized dolls, despite what market research or whatever would say. It's like when people complain about wanting to see more plus-sized women in magazines, so when they do it, the magazine's sales go down. They've talked for years about making a more realistically proportioned and sized Barbie, it's never happened & it likely never will. And this is yet another example of people not giving kids as much credit as they deserve. While eating disorders are on the rise & are very serious things, the majority of girls that play with Barbies or Monster High or whatever don't develop eating disorders. Why? Because kids do have brains, & do know that a doll and a real human being are two different things. The girls that do develop eating disorders probably would have regardless of what toy manufacturers do. Some may use certain internet personalities to argue that some girls do attempt to look like a doll, but again, that's a very slim minority we're talking about that take it to any kind of extreme.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 10:36 PM, angiej wrote:

    I think there should be an average sized Barbie, the average size, of a woman in the U.S - is 12-14. I'm a 16 - and sorry, to tell you, but I do not have double chins. But, I did idolize Barbie - I wanted to be her, I wanted to be tall, thin, blonde & blue eyed. Instead, I was 5'3", brunette, top heavy with, brown eyes. An impossibility, for me. If there had been, more appropriate sized - maybe I would not have agonized - over my looks, so much. I never weighed more than 112 pounds, in high school - but, never felt thin. Still, today (& I'm 48) when I turn to look in the mirror - I always hope - I'll see my long, blonde hair flipping around my shoulders.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 11:12 PM, anotherWTFmoment wrote:

    oh sure, that Barbie now has Mama June's neck (Honey Boo Boo's mom), so why not add cankles and bat wings to complete the look?

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 11:51 PM, chattykaye wrote:

    I am overweight and 5' 9" tall..I do not want to see a PLUS SIZE Barbie...but would love to see a NORMAL LOOKING WOMAN Barbie. When I was a kid, we had Jan and Jill dolls...they were more 'normal' looking than Barbies.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 10:03 AM, Mom2six wrote:

    This is my first post ever... I just had to respond! I showed my two 7 year old daughters the plus size doll to see if they would even be interested getting one for their birthdays or playing with one and they were not interested. They did not like her. I did tell them that they would have to get all new clothes for her and that did not go over very well....(because the clothes they already have does not fit the plus size doll.) Mattel might eventually manufacture and sell them to the parents but the kids probably won't play with them....sadly, it will just be another donation pile toy....

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 11:55 AM, BlueEyesCrush33 wrote:

    There are plenty of models that are considered plus size that don't have a double chin ... You can plus size a doll without making it look ridiculous and a double chin is just stupid!

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 11:56 AM, BlueEyesCrush33 wrote:

    Love the comment from anotherWTFmoment - Priceless!!!

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 1:51 PM, poptartina wrote:

    oh I so agree with missdrivel!!! Amen on that!!!

    I have been eating fast food my whole life and I am still under 130lbs and I am 42 and I DO NOT exercise, thank you very much!!

    you don't have to eat fast food and to blame them is absolutely RIDICULOUS!!!! You might as well not go grocery shopping then, cause of all the bad and sugary food, lets just blame EVERBODY else...riiiight!!!!

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 2:37 PM, kitty101 wrote:

    hi for me its a bit to big but I seen kids try tobe a Barbie size and die its nice to see a doll look some big I can see one like 150 pounds and some meat mite help some kids feel better about themselves think of it a doll more the right size some mite not pack on kids to bad then never know guys cut the size just a bit and would be good more would buy ty trina

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 4:07 PM, galeneverest wrote:

    Honestly you shouldn't mess with Barbie... and as for the "PLUS" size Barbie, it is like telling kids it is healthy and ok to have double chins and cankles.. Seriously... This overstuffed version is just telling young girls that it is ok to be morbidly obese. How about "healthy" Barbie... not too skinny, not too fat??? Just a thought, but does the American public really know what a healthy person looks like anymore? We spent so much time idolizing anorexic looking women, and then time thinking that being morbidly obese is ok and acceptable, how about one shaped like Marilyn Monroe?? voluptuous, healthy and beautiful!!!

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 8:06 PM, RickEvans wrote:

    It's a DOLL!

  • Report this Comment On February 27, 2014, at 5:38 AM, TURRY wrote:

    NNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

  • Report this Comment On March 19, 2014, at 11:41 AM, lelee wrote:

    AWESOME idea... seats teach Our young girls you do not have to look like Barbie...

  • Report this Comment On March 19, 2014, at 11:42 AM, lelee wrote:

    I want one for my 8 year old with the big booty and she's already developing she's not fat but she's is little bit Thick, and I teach her to love herself you don't have to look like you don't eat

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