Barbie got a redesign this week and tbh I'm not super feeling it. This is what new Barbie looks like:

Available in curvy, tall, petite, or original.
  • Mattel
  • Available in "curvy," "tall," "petite," or "original."

It's objectively an improvement on the sentient fashion illo, right? And yet, while she looks so much better, this whole "all hail Mattel" internet parade grates.

Back when I was a Seattle child, I had this proto-regular-lady-Barbie from a line literally called "Happy To Be Me." This was in the early '90s. My parents bought me my Happy To Be Me doll from the progressive toy store in our sleepy, pre-Tech Boom neighborhood, a shop that mainly peddled wooden train sets and crafting kits. This doll was the closest they would get to a Barbie.

Her name was Joy. She had beautiful red hair and a normal body type. Her limbs could move. Her feet were flat. She could stand up. She had a rad green-and-pink color-blocked swimsuit and—I think—OVERALLS.

Again, this was in the early '90s.

Obviously, gendered kids' stuff can suck, and kids' toys that reflect what actual bodies look like are a good thing. It's progress, however incremental. Case in point: When I went to a baby shower earlier this year, I found the great binary pink/blue divide THAT IS Gymboree to be deeply distressing; the saleslady could tell I didn't belong and greeted me with gift wrap before I even asked for it, because that is how not parental and lost I appeared amid the miniature hunting hats and tutus.

It would be great if we didn't start imposing rigid gender performance on two-year-olds, right? But this is a much more complex undertaking than expanding a doll's waistline, especially since it took Mattel over 20 years to catch up with what smaller doll companies were already doing. To me, this recent move looks a lot like a cash-grab, which isn't surprising given that feminism—or at least the appearance of it—is frequently co-opted to move product, which I really struggle to see as a win. And while I think it's great that Mattel is no longer exclusively making skinny, vacant-eyed, perma-makeupped white lady dolls, that bar is set embarrassingly low.