Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie is a Hulu Original documentary about the Barbie division of Mattel during the late 2010’s. Director Andrea Nevins, follows the creative and design teams behind the iconic doll as they come to the difficult decision to change her figure, giving customers the option of four body types instead of just one. The tone of the film is positive, the story is intriguing and never makes a statement for or against the toy company. Nevins’ subjects embrace change as they struggle to stay relevant in a rapidly evolving world. She gathers their thoughts, conversations, and challenges proving to the audience that the women and men behind the doll are human.
Since Barbie made her debut in 1959, the world has loved and hated her for who she is, what she means, and how she symbolizes women and femininity. It’s amazing that a plastic children’s toy could cause so much controversy and heated discussion. Some view the doll as a constructive medium for imagination and a symbol of independence, granting permission to be what you want. Others think of the doll as damaging. Her ridiculous proportions and always perfect appearance sending the message to children, this is what the world expects of you.
Mattel’s operations team love Barbie as she is and for what she means to them. They want her to continue to inspire children to play, imagine, and dream. For Mattel, that means changing Barbie’s body, and making her more relatable to the kids and parents of today. However, that doesn’t mean that the team goes forward without any doubts. Discussion circles around other changes that need to be made. With four different size dolls, clothes sharing won’t be as easy as it was before. The tall figured Barbie won’t fit through doors the way the others do. Sitting on bicycles or in the Barbie car won’t be the same for the curvy or petite doll. This redesign will not be easy, but it is possible.
Nevins takes viewers along every step of the journey of reimagining the iconic doll. Prior to the official launch, Michelle Chidoni, a member of the public relations team sets up a “war zone” drill allowing the team to strategize ways to handle possible negative feedback. “We are contradicting what we’ve publicly said for 50-plus years,” Chidoni tells them. “But, this was about the team feeling a need to reflect a broader view of beauty.” Negative feedback or not, their greatest challenge is knowing they have one chance to present the new Barbies to the world and they absolutely want to get it right.
Regardless of how one feels about the Barbie discussion, there’s no doubt that to restructure a brand image takes time. Nevins’ film sheds light on the very real people who love their jobs and the company they work for. This new direction for Barbie was not something that could be changed overnight and that’s clearly reflected in this story. Mattel’s team approached their challenge with seriousness and thoughtfulness handling things as delicately and gently as they could. Would Barbie be proud? I think so.
I give Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie 4 out of 4 wardrobe changes. Tiny Shoulders debuted on April 27th and is currently steaming on Hulu.