Mattel has released a new Barbie, and she’s a far cry from the smiling, leggy blonde that the “Barbie” name calls to mind.
The Tokidoki Barbie doll, created by Italian designer Simone Legno, sports a short pink bob, permanent Barbie doll tattoos covering her neck, chest, and shoulders, leopard print tights, and a black tunic top etched with Tokidoki’s heart-shaped skull and crossbones logo. She comes complete with sunglasses, a purse, and a little dog dressed as a cactus who goes by “Bastardino.”
The Barbie is getting a bit of backlash from some parents, who think her tattoos and short skirt send the wrong message to young girls.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s not for kids. It’s out there, “ says Marianne Szymanski, mother and founder of Toy Tips, an independent toy researcher with testing centers all over the country. “The argument that you’ll get from the toy companies is: 'Oh, it’s for adults.' But those companies need to know what parents’ concerns are.“
Indeed, the doll is sold on Barbiecollector.com, the section of the Barbie.com website that caters to adult Barbie collectors. It isn’t featured on the Barbie section of the main Mattel site, nor sold at children’s retail toy locations like Toys R Us and Target.
“Many of Barbie’s most pop-culture couture outfits have been designed for the adult doll collector," Mattel said in a written statement. "The Tokidoki Barbie is a perfect example of a limited-edition doll sold through select retail locations such as Tokidoki boutiques.”
Tokidoki is a Japanese-inspired lifestyle brand based in California, founded by Legno.
Much of the concern focuses on the doll’s tattoos. This isn’t the first time a Barbie has sported ink: In 2009, Mattel released Totally Stylin’ Barbie, which came with stick-on tattoos. Unlike the Tokidoki doll, Totally Stylin’ was specifically marketed toward children. It also came under fire upon release, but the doll’s defenders likened her wares to temporary tattoos.
But the Tokidoki Barbie’s tattoos are permanent, which some parents fear will inspire kids to scar their bodies in permanent and (to some) unsightly ways.
Most children playing with Barbies these days are probably used to seeing tattoos, however: a 2006 Pew Research survey found that 36 percent of adults age 18 to 25 have at least one tattoo, as do 40 percent of those age 26-40. Additionally, 54 percent, or over half of respondents in those age groups, had done at least one of the following: gotten a tattoo, had a body piercing in a place other than their ear lobe, or dyed their hair an untraditional color (Tokidoki doll pink, for example).
“I don’t think that doll is really appropriate for a six-year-old,” Szymanski says.“Just because a person has a tattoo, does that mean a doll should have a tattoo?”
Chris Byrne, aka “The Toy Guy” and content director of timetoplaymag.com, an online toy review magazine, doesn’t think that a tattooed doll will necessarily motivate young children to run out and get tattoos when they turn 18.
“At the end of the day, the doll does not model behavior,” he says. “If you don’t like tattoos, it’s your obligation as a parent to not allow tattoos. Children will do things in play, that they aren’t going to replicate in life.”
“Barbie has always been a lightning rod for controversy,” he adds, citing the perpetual furor over the doll’s unrealistic body image, as well as the uproar over a 1992 talking Barbie whose 270 or so phrases infamously included “Math class is tough!”
“It’s people with a lot of personal issues projecting them on a piece of plastic. If you don’t like it, don't bring it into your home. You are the gatekeeper. A Barbie doll is not going to knock on your door and drag your child down to the seaport to get a tattoo.”
Furthermore, Mr. Byrne argues, the Tokidoki doll is, in fact, for adults. “It’s a collectible. It celebrates fashion, which is something that Barbie has been doing with different designers for a long time. And it’s a beautiful doll for 50 dollars.“
According to Byrne, Barbie collecting is the second most popular collecting hobby in the United States, just behind stamps. Mattel estimated that there are about 100,000 adult Barbie collectors across the country, and they are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for the dolls. The collectible Barbies are run by a different managing team than what Byrne calls Mattel’s “for play” line. Unlike their pricier collectible counterparts, “for play” Barbies can be purchased for as little as $6.99.
“If you sit a regular Barbie next to a collector Barbie, you can see there’s a lot more money that goes into the collector,” he says.
But how would a six-year-old respond to the Tokidoki Barbie?
I don’t think she’s going to care,” Byrne says. Barbie play happens in the child s imagination. A doll in a certain outfit is not going to make your child think a certain way.You can give her a naked Barbie, and she’ll still be playing it as a princess.”
Furthermore, he adds, there are major differences between a doll that will appeal to a fashion collector and a doll that a small child will want. “For a six-year-old, glitter is great, but a lot of glitter is even better,” he laughs.