Down Syndrome Barbie

Does the idea make you think, “Whoopee, where can I buy one?” or, “Oh God, my worst nightmare has just been realised.”

Before you go clamouring to write to the papers expressing your outrage, or to Mattel to place an order, I should just say Down Syndrome Barbie is not currently on the market.

Mind you, a special edition “Becky” was released as Barbie’s friend in a wheelchair back in the 90s and sold out almost immediately. And of course there are Barbies of just about every race and nationality.

The thing about Barbie is she’s held up as a physical ideal. Many girls want a Barbie and many girls want to grow up to be like Barbie. Some have even gone so far as to have large amounts of plastic surgery to end up looking more like their idol. There may be different colour Barbies, but they all have the same idealised shape and same basic look.

For some, what could be more natural than a girl having a doll she can dress up and accessorise and dream of becoming? For others it is a very narrow, if not impossible ideal of beauty, which only reinforces the dissatisfaction girls and women have with their own looks and body shape. If everyone loves Barbie, and you don’t look like Barbie, how can anyone love you?

Barbie (or Becky) in a wheelchair? Well that seems perfectly acceptable, especially if the wheelchair is pink. But what if the Barbie in a wheelchair clearly had cerebral palsy? Would she have sold out in 2 weeks, or would there have been an outcry?

What if there were a cleft-palate Barbie, or a hunchback Barbie, or a Barbie with a squint, or a blind Barbie?

Oddly enough, I think there would be fewer outcries about a blind Barbie than one with, say, a club foot. Partly because you could accessorise with sunglasses, guide dog and white stick, but mostly because it still doesn’t affect our cultural ideas of beauty.

And it is this perceived ideal of Barbie, which acts as our paradigm. Our reactions are stronger or weaker to the variations depending on how far away they move from it. To a white supremacist, I guess the only use of a black Barbie would be to practice lynchings (could you get burning cross and white sheet accessories I wonder?).

I look at my daughter and she is heart achingly beautiful. But then I’m her dad, so I would say that, wouldn’t I? However there are the children of other bloggers I visit that have beautiful children, who also happen to have Down Syndrome. And for anyone in any doubt, I suggest you visit Conny Wenk’s site. She takes the most stunning photographs of children both with and without Down Syndrome.

But, the number of children with Down Syndrome who fit the beauty ideal typified by Barbie are very few indeed, if any. If a Down Syndrome Barbie were to be created, she would need to be shorter, probably a bit wider; her eyes would need to be adjusted, as would the shape of her head. But would that be a good thing or bad?

You can buy Down Syndrome dolls, some of which have “the 13 indications of the condition,” including the almond shaped eyes, a protruding tongue, the single crease on the palm and even a scar on the chest from a heart operation.

I was once approached by someone, who is now a very close friend, about whether I thought it was a good idea for her to buy her new granddaughter, who was born with Down Syndrome, one of these dolls.

However, before I reveal my response, I’d like to know your reaction.

If someone were to bring a doll, or action figure for your child, which mirrored the condition your child has, how would you feel about it?

Alternatively, would you consider buying such a figure for someone else?

Note: Please leave a comment, but please also be respectful of different outlooks and perspectives. Do not make personal attacks if you disagree with a particular viewpoint. Genuine debate, not name calling is the ethos of this site.

Kim Ayres
Kim is usually to be found at his own blog, Ramblings of the Bearded One.

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