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The creators of Barbie are releasing what they’re calling the first gender-neutral doll.
Mattel’s new Creatable World line offers six dolls with short hair, flat chests and slim figures in a range of skin tones. Announced Wednesday, the dolls are available at retailers including Amazon, Target and Walmart ($30 each). Accessories allow kids to customize the toys with wigs to create long hair or clothes including tutus, jeans, camouflage pants, graphic tees, sweatpants, red flannels, purple jerseys, rose-printed bomber jackets and splatter-paint overalls.
Time reports that Mattel tested the dolls with 250 families in seven states — 15 of the children identify as trans, gender-nonbinary or gender-fluid.
“Toys are a reflection of culture and as the world continues to celebrate the positive impact of inclusivity, we felt it was time to create a doll line free of labels,” Mattel Fashion Doll Design senior vp Kim Culmone said in a statement. “Through research, we heard that kids don’t want their toys dictated by gender norms. This line allows all kids to express themselves freely, which is why it resonates so strongly with them. We’re hopeful Creatable World will encourage people to think more broadly about how all kids can benefit from doll play.”
The brand’s announcement tries to avoid politics by claiming it “lets toys be toys, so kids can just be kids.”
Mattel president Richard Dickson told Time that the doll isn’t meant to be a political statement. “We’re not in the business of politics,” he said. “We respect the decision any parent makes around how they raise their kids. Our job is to stimulate imaginations. Our toys are ultimately canvases for cultural conversation, but it’s your conversation, not ours; your opinion, not ours.”
Presented with examples of brands like Nike and Airbnb seeing profit boosts after making progressive statements, Dickson admitted, “I think being a company today, you have to have a combination of social justice along with commerce, and that balance can be tricky. … Not everyone will appreciate you or agree with you.”
A University of Minnesota study in 2018 found that about three percent of high schoolers surveyed were transgender or gender nonconforming. More than 10 states allow third-gender or “X” options on ID cards, ranging from New York and California to Arkansas and Minnesota.
“Mattel’s new line of gender inclusive dolls encourages children to be their authentic selves and is the latest sign that toys and media aimed at kids are expanding to reflect how diverse children and their families actually are,” said GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement. “So many children and parents never saw themselves represented in toys and dolls, but this new line raises the bar for inclusion thanks to input from parents, physicians and children themselves.”
In Hollywood, stars including Pose actor Indya Moore and singer Sam Smith announced in the past month that their gender pronouns are they/them. Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox became the first transgender person nominated for an Emmy Award in 2014. And Yance Ford, the director of the documentary Strong Island, became the first transgender person nominated for an Oscar in 2018.
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