A new line of Barbie dolls unveiled by Mattel earlier this month includes one with vitiligo, much to the delight of clinicians who treat children and adolescents with the condition.
“When I see young children and adolescents with vitiligo, it is very common for me to feel their emotional suffering from their skin condition,” Seemal R. Desai, MD, a dermatologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas said in an interview. “Kids can be cruel. Name calling, social ostracizing, [and] effects on self-esteem are all things I have seen amongst my patients and their families in their own struggles with vitiligo.”
According to a brand communications representative from toymaker Mattel, which began manufacturing Barbie dolls in 1959, the company worked with a board-certified dermatologist to include a doll with vitiligo in its 2020 “Fashionistas” line. “As we continue to redefine what it means to be a ‘Barbie’ or look like Barbie, offering a doll with vitiligo in our main doll line allows kids to play out even more stories they see in the world around them,” the representative wrote in an email message. Other dolls debuting as part of the lineup include one with no hair, one with a darker skin tone that uses a gold prosthetic limb, and a Ken doll with long rooted hair (think Jeff Spicoli in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” but about six inches longer).
Such efforts to celebrate diversity and inclusiveness go far in helping children and young adults to embrace their skin and their own identities, said Dr. Desai, the immediate past president of the Skin of Color Society and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology board of directors. “One nuance, perhaps even more important, is that the Barbie can help to break down barriers, create awareness, and potentially even reduce bullying, stigma, and lack of knowledge about vitiligo amongst the general public who don’t understand vitiligo,” he said. “I hope the public and social media will embrace this new Barbie. Who knows? Pretty soon, vitiligo may no longer be a ‘thing’ that causes ‘stares’ and ‘glares.’ ”
Referring to the Barbie with no hair in the new line of dolls, the Mattel statement said, “ if a girl is experiencing hair loss for any reason, she can see herself reflected in the line.”
In 2019, Mattel introduced a lineup of Barbie dolls reflecting permanent disabilities, including one with a prosthetic limb. For that effort, the company collaborated with then-12-year-old Jordan Reeves, the “Born Just Right” coauthor “who is on a mission to build creative solutions that help kids with disabilities, to create a play experience that is as representative as possible,” the Mattel representative wrote.