Mattel: Stereotyping Children Since 1945

Somewhere, sometime in your life, you have probably seen a Barbie doll, American Girl doll or book, or Hot Wheels car. Although you may not know it, all of these seemingly different companies are run by one superstar: Mattel.

Many companies start out independent. American Girl for example, was founded by Pleasant Rowland in 1986, and was originally called Pleasant Company. It became a subsidiary of Mattel in 1998. Pleasant was an advisor until 2000 when she completely broke away. So from that point in time, a family-based company became an international phenomenon. Mattel bought Pleasant Company and changed it to American Girl because it’s Barbie sales were down. In the beginning, Pleasant Rowland was told that she would never compete with Barbie, but instead Barbie was the one competing with her.

Up until around 2015, the only Barbie doll was blonde, white, and skinny, and had a boyfriend just the same. Still, even today, many children are still falling into the trap of the stereotypes Mattel calls toys.

Before American Girl was taken over by Mattel, it was a generally small company. It had mail order from catalogues and genuine characters. Pleasant Company was actually founded to fill the gap of dolls of the time. There were baby dolls for little girls and beauty-type Barbie dolls for older girls. There was no doll for doll play that girls craved- from 8 to 12 years old. There needed to be a doll the same age as a girl who she could relate to and have play with.

Another purpose for the original American Girl was to have history from a personal viewpoint.  While technology and clothing are always changing, girl’s emotions and feelings stay the same. Mattel changed everything. Suddenly made in Wisconsin became China.  Silk became plastic. Pleasant Rolland said it herself: “They are quality pieces — not plastic playthings — and are made for children over eight years old to treasure.” But suddenly, American Girl is becoming more the plastic and pink Barbie that many American Girl lovers fear.

What gender would you think Barbie is stereotyping, if any? We asked genders of all ages and the results were interesting. When being asked which gender Barbie is stereotyping most of the people said girls without questioning. One of them even asked why would they be stereotyping boys, and that it was a stupid question.

Barbie dolls are mostly caucasian, skinny, and blonde. The girls like shopping, going on dates, and their favorite color is always pink, also the color of her fancy car that she drives around in. The boys like surfing and are also blonde. They have super fake muscles and almost all of them are caucasian. And the names are as stereotypical as names can be. The girls names can be like Brenda, and Barbie obviously. The boys are Ken, or something like Austin. Obviously not all boys are like Ken,  and all girls aren’t like Barbie. So that is why Barbie is stereotyping girls and boys.

Barbie’s stereotypes led to it losing sales. Even after they bought American Girl, Mattel knew that they needed something to keep their sales up. So Mattel launched a new line of Barbie dolls that are curvy, petite and tall. Some of them even have different hair textures, colors, and some dolls even have different skin tones. But there are still problems. First of all, Barbie still hasn’t released unique boy dolls, which leaves some fans waiting. In addition, Barbie may be stereotyping girls yet again, to present them as all curvy, petite or tall, with the molded silicone bodies.

Mattel is still struggling with progressiveness, and many doubt if they’ll ever be able to represent everyone. Some still have hope that the Barbie will progress and evolve to be more inclusive. Still, the future of the Barbie depends on one company – Mattel.

One thought on “Mattel: Stereotyping Children Since 1945”

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