Barbie has a new hero.
The iconic doll is adding model and activist Ashley Graham to its roster of Sheroes, a capsule line that's featured boundary-breaking women including director Ava DuVernay, actress Zendaya, dancer Misty Copeland and gymnast Gabby Douglas.
“(Graham) challenges the conversation around body norms, and we think that’s a really important message for girls,” says Lisa McKnight, senior vice president for Mattel’s Barbie brand.
The message Barbie sends to young customers and their parents has been at the forefront of a rejuvenation for the brand, one that included the addition of three new body shapes to it’s fashionista line in March, and 23 new dolls with different skin tones and hairstyles in 2015.
The dolls had become a symbol of unrealistic beauty standards over the years, and in research, McKnight says the brand found some parents who thought Barbie didn’t have a lot of depth.
“Some people have seen her as polarizing, they didn’t see what the brand stood for, and it wasn’t reflective of their values,” McKnight says. “So we went back to our heritage and the origin of the brand.”
But the brand’s sincerity and belief in the message is more than a marketing trick, says Cindi Leive, editor-in-chief of Glamour, which featured the new dolls.
“I approached it with some uncertainty of whether it would be a meaningful change in these doll’s shapes,” Leive said. “And it really was, and I was so impressed with their commitment to modernizing the way they talk to girls.”
The magazine is honoring Graham at its annual Women of the Year Awards Monday, and will be presenting her with the doll.
Though Mattel has no plans to sell the Graham doll, other Sheroes have garnered so much buzz that the company subsequently produced them. Copeland’s doll will be available for the holidays, as will the curvy, tall and petite fashionista dolls, for $29.99 and $9.99, respectively, at national retailers.
“We felt early on, for a girl to see it is to be it,” McKnight says. “We want to really make sure we’re promoting and telling little girls they can be anything.”