March 8, 2016

How Many Different Barbies? How Many Different Girls? How Many Different Girls in Mathematics?

Written by David W. Stinson, Associate Professor of Mathematics Education, Georgia State University, Atlanta

Hand writing math equations on a chalkboard

It’s not often that a child’s toy becomes a cover story but that’s exactly what Barbie did on February 8, 2016 (see “A Barbie for Every Body,” Time). The cover story reported how Mattel, the toy giant, finally decided that the 57-year old icon just might need to become somewhat representative of the body shapes of human women (see “What would a Real Life Barbie Look Like,” BBC News Magazine).

The news that Barbie would be available in four “body types”—curvy, tall, petite, and “original”—was not only a Time cover story but also a topic of discussion of nearly every media outlet: radio and television news and talk shows, conventional and avant-garde news papers, and literally dozens of magazines, from Cosmopolitan to WIRED. And, of course, Barbie and her new body types were all the buzz on social media for days.

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