Becky, Barbie’s friend who uses a wheelchair, was discontinued.
Mattel announced last year that it was giving Barbie a makeover, introducing new body shapes and skin tones. Barbie reflects the world girls see around them.
So why is “Share-a-smile Becky”, a Barbie friend who uses a wheelchair recently discontinued?
In 1997 when Mattel introduced Becky with her shiny, pink wheelchair and tiny backpack, it was an instant hit. As many as 6,000 dolls were sold in the first 2 weeks, and disability advocates praised Mattel for bringing visibility and representation to wheelchair users.
Unfortunately, kids and collectors soon discovered that Becky’s wheelchair didn’t fit through the doors of the Barbie Dream House.
At the time, Mattel responded to the controversy by saying that the company was “looking at the accessibility of all Barbie accessories”.
As it turns out, Becky’s wheelchair still does not fit in the Dream House elevator, 20 years later.
The bottom line? Mattel never changed the house, but did change Becky.
“Share-a-smile Becky” became “Becky, I’m the school Photographer” the “Sign Language I love you, Becky” and then “Paralympic Becky”.
Finally, Becky disappeared from shelves altogether. A lot of the talk about why Becky doesn’t exist anymore, the bottom line is that it was too complicated to redesign Barbie world to fit Becky.
Becky’s story speaks volumes to the way we think about disability. The way we think about disabilities, we talk about “fixing disability”, instead of focussing on fixing society.
Becky’s absence matters. Her re designed matters. Her presence mattered. All of it matters, because representation matters.
It is important for disabled toys to exist because it reinforces the idea that disabled people are a natural part of the world, just like everybody else.
Representation in toys is so important, but in order for it to make a difference, it has to be real. Having a doll in a wheelchair sends a great message to disabled and non-disabled children alike, but if that doll cannot fully participate in the fantasy society it is a part of it just reinforces the message that disabled people are different, and disability is problematic.
I want to live in a world where we fight to change the dream house, instead of trying to change the people in it.
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