Barbie, the iconic toy brand known for its commitment to diversity and inclusion, has once again made history by debuting its first doll with Down syndrome.
Developed in collaboration with the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), the doll is part of the 2023 Fashionistas line and is aimed at “allowing even more children to see themselves in Barbie, as well as have Barbie reflect the world around them,” as stated in a press release by Mattel, the manufacturer of Barbie.
The partnership between Barbie and NDSS was crucial in ensuring that the doll accurately represents individuals with Down syndrome.
Mattel stated that NDSS provided guidance and real-world experiences throughout the design process, including the doll’s sculpt, clothing, accessories, and packaging. This close collaboration resulted in a doll that immediately connects with the Down syndrome community and celebrates their uniqueness.
Kandi Pickard, the president and CEO of NDSS, expressed her excitement about the collaboration, stating, “This means so much for our community, who for the first time, can play with a Barbie doll that looks like them. This Barbie serves as a reminder that we should never underestimate the power of representation. It is a huge step forward for inclusion and a moment that we are celebrating.”
The doll’s puff sleeved dress pattern features butterflies and yellow and blue colors, which are symbols associated with Down syndrome awareness.
The doll’s pink pendant necklace with three upward chevrons represents the three copies of the 21st chromosome, which is the genetic material that causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome. The three chevrons are a symbol that unites the Down syndrome community and represents “the lucky few” who have someone with Down syndrome in their life.
In addition to the doll’s design, Barbie’s shape has also been modified to be more illustrative of women with Down syndrome. The doll features a shorter frame and a longer torso, and the new face sculpt includes a rounder shape, smaller ears, and a flat nasal bridge. The eyes are slightly slanted in an almond shape, and the doll’s palms even include a single line, a characteristic often associated with those with Down syndrome.
Furthermore, the doll’s outfit and accessories were carefully chosen to reflect real-life experiences of individuals with Down syndrome. The doll wears pink ankle foot orthotics (AFOs) to match her outfit, and her sneakers feature a zipper detail. Some children with Down syndrome use orthotics to support their feet and ankles, and NDSS provided a box of orthotics to serve as inspiration for the ones worn by the Barbie Fashionista doll, perfectly matched to her outfit and design.
Lisa McKnight, Mattel’s executive vice president and global head of Barbie & Dolls, highlighted the potential global impact of the doll in a statement. “As the most diverse doll line on the market, Barbie plays an important role in a child’s early experiences, and we are dedicated to doing our part to counter social stigma through play,” said McKnight. “Our goal is to enable all children to see themselves in Barbie, while also encouraging children to play with dolls who do not look like themselves.”
McKnight further emphasized the power of doll play in promoting understanding and empathy, which can lead to a more accepting world. “We are proud to introduce a Barbie doll with Down syndrome to better reflect the world around us and further our commitment to celebrating inclusion through play,” she added.
The launch of the Barbie doll with Down syndrome is indeed a historic moment, representing a significant step forward in promoting diversity, representation, and inclusion in the toy industry.