When people think of Barbie dolls, they immediately envision the blonde-haired, blue eyed, tanned, high heeled figure that has dominated the toy market since 1959. Barbie’s look has changed since she first stepped onto the public scene and drastically evolved from the ‘fierce’ looking, high eyebrow arched doll she first was to the more hip, trendy, kind-looking doll she is today. However every doll has its faults, its imperfections. With as much as Barbie has going for her, one would think she is the epitome of independence. She has had every job imaginable, great friends and family, numerous houses and cars and yet, for all her ability, Barbie lacks the ability to stand upright on her own two feet! Well now, Mattel couldn’t have that. In the way of addressing disability across culture Mattel finally gave Barbie her independence and thus Share-A-Smile Becky was born. She is stylish, beautiful and able to stay upright without the help of a stand or a person. How does she do it? They gave her, her very own wheelchair. In making Share-A-Smile Becky, Mattel sought to address the want of little girls, and all children in general, in wheelchairs and with disabilities in general to show that everyone, no matter what ability or disability they may have they are still equal, and in doing so, they made Share-A-Smile Becky, THE most independent doll to be manufactured.
Share-A-Smile Becky first came onto the scene May 1997 and was said to have received a rather warm reception. Lisa McKendall, a spokesperson for Mattel ‘said thousands have been sold.’ “In most places it is selling out the minute it hits the shelves.” [i] However, Becky had to be recalled soon after she was released because, just like with real life individuals in wheelchairs, she had problems maneuvering around Barbie’s home. The elevator wasn’t wide enough for her wheelchair to fit onto so she couldn’t go upstairs and the door to the house was also to narrow for her to roll through. She faced the problems many other kids in wheelchairs faced which made her even more realistic to children and parents alike. A month after she was recalled, Mattel introduced a wheelchair accessible Barbie house with ‘a wider front door and no steps or stairs.’[ii]
Share-A-Smile Becky sits upright in her wheelchair and she even has flat feet ‘(right angled) so she is able to stand on her own.’[iii] On the back of the box she comes in she’s featured with Barbie and Christie (African American Barbie), who stand on either side of her while she sits in her wheelchair in between them. Everybody knows Barbie and Christie cannot stand up on their own, which means their held up by string or they’re using their stands which have been edited out of the picture. Their shoes don’t even touch the ground because of the way their feet are arched. If taken into account, Barbie is the one with the true disability. For someone so able-bodied she can’t even stand up by herself. She has severe high arches, a condition known as pes cavus[iv], and so she can’t support her own body weight and her knees are always bent in whatever pose she is seen in, even when sitting down. Her legs are unable to assume a straight position and even with the Barbie whose legs are able to snap in different directions, she falls right over unless her legs are spread wide with both knees bent (both inward, which then makes her ‘bow-legged’ or medically known as genu varum[v]) and even then, she can only stay in that position for a short amount of time (seconds) before she falls over. Becky’s shoes (and feet) are flat so that, if desired, she can be taken from her wheelchair and made to stand on her own two feet.
Becky, as defined by the medical/charity model, with her flat feet and wheelchair bound body should be happy that she was even considered an idea right? Wrong. Not only is she the type of doll ‘disabled children can admire but able-bodied children also’[vi] because not only was she the high school head photographer but an alternate form of her, Paralympic Becky, is a gold medal athlete. It’s pretty fair to say in all respects that she’s the type of doll who gives Barbie a ‘run’ for her money. It was also pretty ironic the word choice used by Mattel when describing Share-A-Smile Becky as they consider her a ‘role model for children of differing abilities’ instead of saying ‘differing disabilities’ (Barbie, 2000). Sadly however, Share-A-Smile Becky is no longer in production as she was only introduced for the 1997 season. Mattel has expressed that they might be considering producing another doll in a wheelchair but it is expressed as an idea that is ‘up in the air’.
i. The Associated Press. “Barbie’s Disabled Friend Can’t Fit”. University of Washington/Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology, section 3. 2002. U of Washington DO-IT. Web. 19 Apr. 2010.
ii. The Associated Press. “Barbie’s Disabled Friend Can’t Fit”. University of Washington/Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology, section 3. 2002. U of Washington DO-IT. Web. 19 Apr. 2010.
iii. Westbrook, Mary. “Dolls with Disabilities”. Polio Particles- Issue 4. 2000. Post-Polio Network (NSW) Inc Newsletter. Web. 19 Apr. 2010.
iv. Wikipedia. “Pes cavus”. Wikipedia. 2010. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 19 Apr. 2010.
v. Wikipedia. “Genu varum”. Wikipedia. 2010. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 19 Apr. 2010.
vi. Seahurst, Joanne Lawrence. “Share A Smile Becky—Cheers for Doll Maker Willing to Teach Children Understanding of Empathy”. The Seattle Times. 1997. The Seattle Times Company. Web. 19 Apr. 2010.
Lanzarini, Lisa, ed. Barbie: A Visual Guide To The Ultimate Fashion Doll. New York: Dorling Kindersley Inc, 2000. Print.