Barbie Broadens Its Horizons with the Release of the Maya Angelou Doll

By: Emma Sweeney

Barbie. The first words that come to mind: blonde, skinny, and white. In the past, Barbie was condemned for appealing to unrealistic expectations and not providing enough role models for girls. There was a lack of inclusivity and diversity as not every girl could be represented by one doll.

Mattel sought to remedy this issue by adding a variety of skin tones, hairstyles, body types, and dolls with disabilities such as a wheelchair and a prosthetic leg.

Girls can now expand their toybox. Not only do girls all around the world have a doll that reflects what they look like, but now they can play with dolls who look different from them, and they may learn the value of empathy.

In 2018, Mattel released an “Inspiring Women” Barbie collection which includes Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, and Billie Jean King.  

“Girls have always been able to play out different roles and careers with Barbie and we are thrilled to shine a light on real- life role models to remind them that they can be anything,” said Lisa McKnight, Barbie’s senior vice president and general manager. 

To celebrate the incredible life of Maya Angelou, Mattel released a Maya Angelou doll as a part of the collection on January 14th.

Maya Angelou was an author and civil rights activist whose career spanned over fifty years. She is best known for her 1970 memoir, “Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which is about her experience in a Southern, racist climate. The doll includes a copy of her famous memoir.  

Maya Angelou became the first African- American woman to speak at a Presidential inauguration in 1993. The Maya Angelou doll arrived at a perfect time as days after the doll’s announcement, Amanda Gorman recited poetry at President Joe Biden’s inauguration with her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

The response to the Maya Angelou doll has been nothing but positive- the doll sold out instantly.

The popularity of the doll shows the importance of widening girls’ knowledge on women who use their voices to stand up for what is right.

Furthermore, in June of 2020, Barbie released a commitment statement to the Black community promising to increase Black representation, show more Black role models, donating to organizations, and partnering with Black Girls Code.

“We cannot achieve our mission to inspire the limitless potential in every girl without acknowledging the barriers and racism impacting Black girls specifically. We stand united in the fight against racism and we are committed to showing up, doing the work, and allocating the resources,” said Mattel.

Mattel also pledged that “more than 50 percent of our future Role Models honored will be Black, indigenous, or women of color.”

With role models such as Maya Angelou, Barbie strives to influence the next generation of female writers and activists.

In the future, Barbie’s brand will not reflect what a girl should look like; instead, they are inspiring girls to love themselves for who they are, be who they want to be, and discover what they will contribute to the world.

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