top of page
  • Writer's pictureKatie Cope

Why we don't need Doll to promote Inclusivity

Recently Barbie released a new doll who has scoliosis. She has a pretty pink dress, slightly un-balanced shoulders and a removable back brace.

And as you can expect there was lots of praise for Barbie: they are leading the way for inclusivity and showing our darling children that being different should be embraced and celebrated.

But for me, when I saw this doll I was angry.

You know me, I'm all for inclusivity, equity and equality. So even I was slightly surprised by the amount of vitriol that I had for a seemingly harmless child's play thing. Surely this is something that I would embrace with open arms?

What Scoliosis is

The reason why I have such a reaction to this doll is because I had scoliosis.

When I was 13, my mum noticed that one of my shoulder blades was protruding slightly further out of my back than the other. A trip to the GPs, then to a specialist for an x-ray revealed that I had Idiopathic Adolescent Scoliosis - a curvature of the spine. My curve was such that it was pushing on my ribcage, which in turn was pushing out my shoulder blade (and starting to squish other vital organs).

My options: leave it and see what happens (with the possibility of it getting worse) or have an operation to correct it: 2 titanium rods fused to my spine to straighten it.

At 14 I had the surgery - by then I had had 3 MRIs and at least 12 x-rays (I went on to have about 16 x-rays by the end of it). During the 8 hour operation my rib and some of my hip bone was broken to help fuse the rods to my spine. Afterwards, I was in intensive care for 3 days and in hospital for 14 days.

After I left hospital I had to wear a back brace for an entire year. The first one I couldn't remove and just had a hole in it so my stomach could expand (curries and fizzy drinks were off the menu). Then 3 months later I got one with Velcro on so I could remove it for a few hours a day.

You'll be pleased to know that I made a full recovery without any complications, and as a bonus got 3 inches added to my height!

As I'm getting to be an old fart, the surgery for Scoliosis has significantly changed, but the fact still remains that this - and any spinal surgery - is pretty significant.

And for me, Barbie has glazed over that, and instead made a back brace an accessory. My back brace wasn't an accessory: it was necessary to ensure that I healed.

The idea of inclusivity

If you have young kids (like my two minions) you will know that their societal filter can somewhat be lacking. I remember the embarrassment as my eldest blurted out "why is that lady really fat?" in a restaurant.

But notice it was my embarrassment.

I have been brought up knowing that saying things that highlight people's differences are wrong. But for my eldest, he is just saying it how it is.

There was no malice behind the statement.

And whilst I fully ensured that my eldest knows not to say things like that in public (and so loud that the entire of Greater Manchester can hear him), and explained the reasons why the women may be fat, I am completely aware that we, as adults and society, have created these differences.

Children don't see those differences. They question it, yes, but when there is no big statement or reaction, they shrug their shoulders and accept it how it is.

So who is this doll really for?

Will the parents whose child doesn't have scoliosis buy the scoliosis doll to teach their child inclusivity? Nope.

So who is it teaching?

Or is it just another way that as adults we can tick a box to say that we are teaching our children inclusivity without actually having the conversation?

Or is it another way for Barbie to make money off parents?

(I'll leave you to decide that one.)

The hard talk

Talking about inclusivity, differences, equity and equality is hard. But as adults it's only hard because we've made it hard. We've created echo chambers that reinforce our views, instead of looking past those and considering that hey, someone else might think or act differently.

And whilst I'm not excusing myself from judgemental behaviour, I am trying to make a conscious effort to stop, listen and respect each others differences.

We need to be open to answering questions about awkward subjects (like the one where I had to explain that Muslims can be any colour of skin to my eldest).

It's time for us to stop playing with dolls, and grow up.


bottom of page