Why do people care so much about Barbie? Perhaps it’s because she has impossible curves, a beautiful face and conspicuous success (just think of all the cars, boats and houses she has not to mention her many college and doctoral degrees). She is, in short, the embodiment, if not the caricature, of material success.
The intensity that Barbie draws particularly from women can be seen in the powerful response to the online movement for a “Beautiful & Bald Barbie". Backers feel strongly that it would be a boost for girls who have lost their hair due to cancer treatments. (If you are unfamiliar with the movement, Mary Couzin wrote an excellent post on the subject, “Social Media Gets Bumpy for Barbie.”)
Here is how the "Beautiful & Bald Barbie" Facebook page puts it:
We would like to see a Beautiful and Bald Barbie made to help young girls who suffer from hair loss due to cancer treatments, Alopecia or Trichotillomania. Also, for young girls who are having trouble coping with their mother's hair loss from chemo. Many children have some difficulty accepting their mother, sister, aunt, grandparent or friend going from long haired to bald.
To date, Mattel has chosen not to produce a bald Barbie. That’s not surprising. Barbie is, after all, ultimately one of the most financially rewarding toy brands in the world and its image has to be carefully tended.
Here, however, is another way for Mattel to look at the Barbie brand: There are really two.
Brand 1 is the brand a girl plays with as a child. Mattel owns that one.
Brand 2 is the one that lives in many women’s heads the rest of their lives. The end users own that one.
Mattel would indeed be wise to protect its brand if all we were talking about was children and toys. We are, however, talking about the societal responsibility Mattel has achieved by creating a product that has become so important in what it mirrors about society; a brand that represents so many things to some many adult women.
So, my suggestion to Mattel is go ahead and produce a Beautiful & Bald Barbie. The Barbie that is a toy brand will not be affected as healthy girls will only pause for a second and sick little girls will remember it for a lifetime. The Barbie that is a societal icon will benefit because Mattel has gone where few other brands can go…to the heart and the head of a woman.