Today, Mattel announced the introduction of its first Barbie doll with Down syndrome, created to allow even more children to see themselves in Barbie.
The first Barbie doll with Down syndrome – part of this year’s global Barbie Fashionistas collection, the most diverse doll line on the market – is meant to inspire all children to tell even more stories through play. Barbie worked closely with the US-based National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) – a leading human rights organisation for people with Down syndrome – to ensure the doll accurately represents a young woman with Down syndrome and to ensure the doll would meaningfully and immediately connect with the community.
The guidance, real-world experience, and insight of the NDSS informed the design process from start to finish, including the doll’s sculpt, clothing, and accessories. Counseled by the NDSS, Barbie was purposeful with every design choice including:
• Sculpt: The Barbie Fashionista doll with Down syndrome introduces a new face and body sculpt to be more illustrative of women with Down syndrome, including a shorter frame and a longer torso. Special care was given to the new face sculpt which features a rounder shape, smaller ears, and a flat nasal bridge. The eyes are slightly slanted in an almond shape and little white spots can be seen in the iris. The doll’s palms include a single line, a characteristic often associated with people with Down syndrome.
• Fashion and accessories: The pattern on the doll’s puff sleeve dress features butterflies and yellow and blue colours – symbols and colours associated with Down syndrome awareness. The doll’s pink pendant necklace with three upward chevrons represents the three copies of the 21st chromosome, the genetic material that causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome. The three chevrons or arrows are a symbol that unites the Down syndrome community and are meant to represent “the lucky few” who have someone with Down syndrome in their life.
• Orthotics: The Barbie Fashionista doll with Down syndrome wears pink ankle foot orthotics (AFOs) to match her outfit, and her sneakers feature a zipper detail. Some children with Down syndrome use orthotics to support their feet and ankles. NDSS gave the Barbie design team a box of orthotics to serve as real-life inspiration, and Barbie designed them to complement the doll’s outfit and its bright colours.
Kandi Pickard, NDSS President and CEO, said: “It was an honour working with Barbie on the Barbie doll with Down syndrome. This means so much for our community who, for the first time, can play with a Barbie doll that looks like them. This Barbie serves as a reminder that we should never underestimate the power of representation. It is a huge step forward for inclusion and a moment that we are celebrating.”
The development of the Barbie Fashionista doll with Down syndrome spanned more than a year including meetings, emails, sketch shares, and critical rounds of feedback and reactions to the design with the NDSS. Kim Culmone, senior vice president, global head of design Barbie & Fashion Dolls, Mattel, said:
“A doll with Down syndrome has been one of the top asks I’ve received as the head of design for Barbie. The development of this doll spanned well over a year from initial ideation to production. The process included concept meetings, preliminary design reviews, and rounds of feedback to refine the doll design with the NDSS team, specifically members of the team with Down syndrome, medical professionals, and families within the community, including kids who have Down syndrome.”
This is the first Barbie doll to reflect a person with Down syndrome. It’s also a unique doll in the category. In the past, most dolls with Down syndrome have been baby dolls. The Barbie Fashionista doll with Down syndrome is breaking barriers by creating an adult-form doll, allowing all children to play out future storylines. Children’s early experiences help shape their thoughts and perceptions – and Barbie can play an important role in this process. When a child plays with Barbie, they play out their dreams and imagine they can be anything. Doll play has an incredible purpose during key developmental stages as it may help set children on a course for success by allowing them to develop empathy – fueling social skills needed to excel as they imagine their futures with an equal playing field.
The Barbie Fashionista doll with Down syndrome allows more children to see themselves in Barbie, and to have Barbie reflect the world around them, which can help foster a sense of inclusivity. Lisa McKnight, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Barbie & Dolls, Mattel, said: “As the most diverse doll line on the market, Barbie plays an important role in a child’s early experiences. Our goal is to enable all children to see themselves in Barbie, while also encouraging children to play with dolls who do not look like themselves. Doll play outside of a child’s own lived experience can teach understanding and build a greater sense of empathy, leading to a more accepting world.
We are proud to introduce a Barbie doll with Down syndrome to better reflect the world around us and further our commitment to celebrating inclusion through play.” Barbie is the most inclusive doll line on the market with more than 175 looks offering different eye colors, hair colours and textures, skin tones, body types, abilities, and fashions, to tell even more stories. Barbie has introduced dolls with vitiligo, dolls that use a wheelchair, a doll with hearing aids, and a doll without hair, and the Barbie Fashionista line is a consistent top seller. This year, Barbie continues to represent belonging and inclusivity with the full 2023 Fashionistas lineup, which also includes a new Fashionista doll wearing braces, and a Ken Fashionista doll with a prosthetic leg. The Barbie Fashionista doll with Down syndrome will be available to purchase at Kmart, Target and Big W from the 26th April and will retail at RRP $13.00.
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