Step aside, Barbie: Girls want a superhero who can fight

Say long to sexy superheros.
Say long to sexy superheros.
Image: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann
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Mattel is giving Wonder Woman and Batgirl a makeunder—they are not going to be built like sexed-up supermodels anymore.

DC Entertainment, Mattel, and Warner Bros have created DC Super Hero Girls, a “universe” with a recently launched website, and a coming line-up of LEGOs, TV shows, movies, books like Wonder Woman at Super Hero High and action figures, and dolls meant to look like actual girls.

DC Superhero Girls
DC Superhero Girls
Image: Mattel

For Mattel, the collaboration is an attempt to reconnect with girls, that other half of the population who don’t quite love Barbie like they used to. Though still a powerhouse for the company, with about $1 billion in annual revenue, sales of Barbie have been falling for years. (Mattel’s stock price is down 45% in the last year and a new CEO brought on in January.)

According to Matthew Townsend at BloombergBusiness, girls purchase 9% of Mattel’s action figures, in spite of the fact that little effort has been made to understand or market the figures to them. Some big brains inside Mattel decided that more research might result in more sales. They put a girl in charge of designing the girl’s line (OK, a woman) and discovered that girls want their superhero to look like, well, a superhero. According to Townsend:

Researchers found that girls didn’t want the superheroes to be too girly, a problem with the first round of dolls that Mattel developed. One girl complained that the toys looked ”more pretty than superhero,” and another pointed out that Poison Ivy’s scarf would only get in the way during a fight. Wonder Woman, meanwhile, was too skinny and not athletic enough.

Caroline Kim, the toy designer spearheading the project at Mattel decided to use gymnasts, dancers, and basketball players as models for the doll and action figures rather than fantasy-like figures of the old Wonder Woman and Batgirl, which Kim described as “beautiful, but really sexualized.” And anything would be an improvement major improvement on the absurd, dimensions of Barbie which researchers estimate reflect real life bodies to the tune of 1 in 100,000.

“We wanted to have this very strong, toned body, but keeping in mind that they are still in high school, so they’re not fully mature yet,” Kim told Bloomberg. Supergirl’s cape will remain red, not be turned pink. And the dolls will have no accoutrement that would prevent them from saving the world.

The toy line was developed for girls ages 6-12 and focused on female superheroes and supervillains during their “formative years, prior to discovering their full super power potential,” according to Mattel. The company calls it”most powerful and diverse line-up of female characters as relatable teens.”

The new superheroes are hardly perfect. They still have impossibly big eyes and perfect, pink, pouty lips. But their goal seems to be to save the world, not hop in the convertible to go shopping before returning home to the Malibu dream house.

I’m hoping a new breed of tough-girl superheroes and villians will knock Barbie and her and her stilettos right off her billion-dollar perch.