This year Mattel brought back wheelchair Barbies and I am really excited to welcome these ladies into my home and to get them as gifts for my nieces and nephews. In the 1990s, Mattel made its first iteration of a wheelchair Barbie which was named “Share a Smile Becky.” While Becky was a great addition to the Barbie family and the Disability Community celebrated the representation that Becky brought in her pink wheelchair, there were some issues with the 1990s Becky. First and foremost, Becky couldn’t fit through the doorway of Barbie’s dream house and she definitely couldn’t fit in the elevator. Access issues aside, Becky was also desexualized in comparison to her able-bodied counterpart, Barbie. Barbie wore tight clothes and high heels. Becky was given flat feet so she could never wear heels and she wore pants with a skirt over it, not a little pink dress. Not to mention the name “Share a Smile Becky” is patronizing all on its own. Despite Becky’s issues, Becky was popular and over 6000 Becky dolls were sold in the first two weeks. Unfortunately, even though Becky was celebrated and loved, Mattel stopped making Becky and for years the only way a person could buy a wheelchair Barbie was through eBay or some secondhand store. That is, until this year.
In 2019, Mattel introduced three new Barbie Fashionistas with visible disabilities! Two of the Fashionista’s are wheelchair users and one Fashionista has a prosthetic leg. I am particularly thrilled that Mattel has made both a black Barbie that uses a wheelchair and a white Barbie that uses a wheelchair because representation matters! And while these Fashionistas with disabilities have flat feet just like Becky did, so do all of the other Fashionistas. It looks like all of the dolls in the Fashionista line wear flat shoes, such as sneakers or boots.
As we look forward to the holiday season, I am excited to welcome these disabled Fashionistas into my home and I am more excited to get them as gifts for my nieces and nephews. My five nieces and nephew already think that my wheelchair is the coolest thing in the world and are always asking to go for rides with me. It is really important for me to teach them that disability is a normal part of life that should be embraced and having Barbies with disabilities will help them to learn that disabilities are normal through playing even when I’m not around.
My nieces already have some dolls with wheelchairs and they absolutely love them. Their physically disabled dolls have incredible aspirations, just as their able-bodied dolls. One time my niece had her wheelchair-using doll be a lawyer (just like Aunt Steph!) but the next day the same doll drove a dump truck. In my niece’s imaginary world, disabled people can do anything nondisabled people can do. I hope this means that when my nieces grow up and live in the real world, they know that their disabled peers can do anything that they can do.
Now that my nieces and nephew will be adding Barbies with wheelchairs and a prosthetic leg to their toy collections this winter, I cannot wait to see how their imaginations expand and all the accomplishments that their new disabled Barbies are able to achieve in their hands!
About Stephanie Woodward: Stephanie is a brand ambassador for Quantum Rehab® and works as a disability rights activist. She has received many awards for helping communities become more accessible, as well as for her actions in fighting for the rights of disabled individuals as it relates to Medicaid and other support services. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.