Both the world’s largest toy manufacturers announced last week the introduction of more realistic figures to their range of heritage toy brands. Interestingly, both appear to have responded to customer pressure. Lego, due to the #ToyLikeMe campaign, set up to persuade toymakers to have better representation of people with disabilities in their toy lines and characters. And Mattel, after years of criticism over its iconic Barbie doll’s unhealthy body type and increasing sentiment amongst ‘millennial moms’ that Barbie was insipid and lacked depth.
Lego initially appeared to dismiss the campaign, stating “the beauty of the Lego system is that children may choose how to use the pieces we offer to build their own stories.” Really? Perhaps competitor Playmobil’s immediate backing and plan to launch a new toy set in 2016 that will include characters with disabilities persuaded them otherwise. And then there’s British toy company Makies, who produce customised 3D-printed dolls and accessories in their “Toy Like Me” disabled range.
Either way, the launch at the 2016 Nuremberg International Toy Fair of a new collection called “Fun in the Park” featuring a young, beanie-hatted mini figure in a wheelchair has been welcomed by all. #ToyLikeMe is particularly pleased; “we are beyond happy right now,” says the campaign organiser.
Mattel’s motivation for Barbie may be slightly different, as sales of the brand have been steadily declining worldwide for the last three years. Her face-lift started last year with the launch of the Fashionistas range of 23 new dolls with varied skin and hair colour to better reflect women and real life diversity. The range even included a Barbie capable of wearing flat shoes, albeit ones designed by shoe designer Sophie Webster.
Barbie’s personal makeover continued with the addition of three new body types to the range last week — petite, curvy and tall. The range now includes four body types, seven skin tones, 22 eye colours, 24 hair styles and various face shapes, totaling 33 new variants with wardrobes to match!
For both, the move to include more realistic figures is being widely celebrated as a significant step in the right direction and a genuine stab at becoming more inclusive. Due to their immense popularity, both companies have it within their power to positively influence the next generation in terms of both perceptions of disability and body positivity, by providing toys that children can identify with and are relevant to them today. Could this be the rallying call for both brands to deliver a higher social purpose to deliver what some might say their moral obligation? Let’s hope so – even the cynic within me has her fingers crossed.