Mattel, maker of Barbie, introduces gender-neutral dolls

Tanya Edwards
Photo courtesy Mattel

Mattel, the company behind Barbie and American Girl, has announced a new line of gender neutral dolls called Creatable World. In the brand’s own words, it is “a doll line designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in — giving kids the freedom to create their own customizable characters again and again.”

The tagline for the dolls, “All Welcome,” is an accurate description of the toys that are something of a blank canvas and encourage creative play. Each doll retails for $29.99 and comes with short hair, a long haired wig, clothing and accessories that can be mixed up to create hundreds of looks.

"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," Kim Culmone, senior vice president of Mattel Fashion Doll Design, 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.”

Reactions to the gender-neutral Creatable World dolls were mixed.

Many showed their love for the new toy:

Others aren’t so supportive of the new member of the Mattel family:

This is not Mattel’s first foray into pushing the boundaries of what dolls represent to children in our changing culture.

In 2016, Barbie got a major makeover, with the brand launching tall, curvy and petite versions of the iconic doll, which was also made available in a variety of skin tones and hair types for the first time.

Barbie got a makeover in 2016. (Photo: Mattel)

The brand had faced facing longstanding criticism over the toy's unrealistic proportions and lack of diversity, and the move came amid slumping sales for the brand, which launched in 1959.

Barbie's proportions have changed slightly over the years, but Mattel has continued to face criticism for promoting an unrealistic body image to girls. The company has largely deflected criticism in the past, arguing that the doll's various career choices — doctor, astronaut, businesswoman — support female empowerment, and denying that Barbie influences girls' body image.

Barbie also launched its “Inspiring Woman Series” line in 2018 on International Women’s Day, calling it a “doll line dedicated to honor historical role models who paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever before.”

This August, they debuted the latest additions to its “Inspiring Women” Barbie collection: Rosa Parks and Sally Ride.

Photo courtesy Mattel

The line includes other other notable figures, including Amelia Earhart, Katherine Johnson and Frida Kahlo.

And just this past February, Mattel announced a new member of Barbie’s “Barbie Fashionista” line — a doll in a wheelchair. A representative from Mattel told Yahoo Lifestyle that a doll with a wheelchair accessory is one of the most requested items from Barbie fans and within this line there are now two options to choose from.

Mattel seems to be shifting their focus as a brand from a single doll style to multiple options that reflect children’s lives and how they function in the world. Only time will tell if this cultural shift is here to stay.

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