When I used think about Barbie, I would think about those little plastic shoes. Tiny perfect high heels on “perfect” long legs, strong enough to stand tall all day long, looking like a million bucks. I can’t wear high heels anymore. I used to all the time, I even used to dance in them. I did all sorts of amazing things in perfect shoes before I became disabled. Life changed. I changed. Now when I look at Barbie I see she has changed in a way that reflects a broader range of women with the advent of Barbie Fashionistas.
The arrival of a Barbie in a wheelchair means a lot to me. I’m a 36-year-old woman with mobility challenges. Some days it’s hard to walk and I think about how a future that looks like that (which may involve mobility aids) and how it may well be closer than I think. When I think about how many examples of successful vibrant young women with mobility issues I am disappointed as I realize how little representation there is and how difficult that makes imagining my own future. It’s about not being able to navigate terrain when you don’t have a mental map of what it looks like, what it could look like.
My mental map for disability was badly in need of updating when I was first diagnosed. I intellectually knew there are other women out there like me but I still felt alone. I feel like the sooner we arm our kids with more diverse representations of disability the better. I think every little girl with a disability deserves to see herself in Barbie. It’s such an iconic doll, aspirational, whimsical, and fun. Having that experience mirrored allows young girls to explore what it means to be disabled and interacting in social situations, going on adventures, being out in the world. It expands the scope of what disability can look like.
I think about buildings and spaces and how they need to be accessible and I feel like having a Barbie that reflects other experiences makes hearts more accessible. People love their toys, their dolls, their playthings. When I see that beautiful Barbie, I love it, and I’m a grown woman.
The thing about diverse toys, like diverse books, is they open up conversations. They give space for kids to ask questions. I had a lengthy conversation with my son about ambulatory wheelchair users the other day and I think the more we can expose kids to different experiences and perspectives the better. These new Barbie dolls don’t just display disability but also different skin tones, hair types, and body types. Playtime should be intersectional! My social justice loving heart flutters with delight.
Barbie brought more diversity to their line in celebration of their 60th anniversary, with a line of 60 role models based on real women. Daniella is a 15 year old girl affiliated with the Starlight Children’s Foundation Canada who is in a wheelchair or uses walkers and canes but she also loves dancing and swimming and horseback riding. She has cerebral palsy and she is unstoppable. When Daniella heard she was going to become a Barbie she said, “The hurdle that I sometimes find is acceptance. This opportunity to represent Barbie shows me that there is so much acceptance and love in this world.”
Toys R Us Canada is going to be donating partial proceeds from the Barbie Fashionista + Wheelchair doll to help brighten the lives of seriously ill children through Starlight Canada. If you’re wondering what Starlight does, they have been spreading joy to seriously ill children across the country through a blend of hospital to home programs designed for the whole family.
Disclosure: I was provided a Barbie sample to review and share my thoughts about by Starlight Canada. All opinions are my own. I am authentically over the moon that this exists.