Down syndrome Barbie - tokenism, reinforcing stereotypes, raising awareness, self-identification for people with disabilities?
I have never owned a Barbie. Not sure why, but my parents never bought me one. I always disliked the idea of a young girl having an idealized concept of beauty represented by the original Barbie.
Mattel has introduced many different Barbies that represent the world we live in including Curvy Barbie, Transgender Barbie, Muslim Barbie and more. I applaud Mattel for this. So why do I have a knee jerk reaction to the recently released Down syndrome Barbie?
Mattel bosses said they wanted to bring out the doll to “enable all children to see themselves in Barbie”. But should we educate our daughters to find their “inner Barbie” anyway? Also, while they may share various typical facial features of Down syndrome, people with Down syndrome don’t all look the same or have a particular look. Most people with Down syndrome do not look like the pretty blond Down syndrome Barbie for sure.
However, my discomfort stems from the fact I dream of a world of genuine inclusion, acceptance, education, and job opportunities for people like my daughter with a disability. Down syndrome Barbie is a feel-good gimmick. I had so many friends forward me the new Barbie with gushing comments about how great this is. I could not help but cynically wonder, would their neurotypical daughter have a Down syndrome Barbie as part of their collection? Even more so would these neurotypical young girls include my daughter in their social circles?