When is a Lego figurine more than just a toy?
When that simple piece of ABS can let the sun shine into a sometimes lonely place.
You may have seen the news last month that Lego A/S showed some new characters at a German toy fair, including a child using a wheelchair. The debut — along with news from Mattel Inc. that its Barbie doll juggernaut would include a new lineup of dolls representing multiple cultures, skin tones and body sizes — was welcomed as an inclusive step by some of the world's biggest toymakers.
There have been calls for both companies to do more to acknowledge the range of children playing with their toys. Mattel, especially, has taken heat for making a doll that doesn't have a body size that matches reality.
And while the iconic Barbie will remain, the 2016 “Barbie Fashionistas” line, which debuted Jan. 28, includes dolls with four body types to represent people who are more petite or taller or more full figured than the standard Barbie, as well as being available with seven skin tones, 22 eye colors and 24 hair styles.
“We are excited to literally be changing the face of the brand,” said Evelyn Mazzocco, senior vice president and global general manager of Barbie, in a news release. “These new dolls represent a line that is more reflective of the world girls see around them — the variety in body type, skin tones and style … We believe we have a responsibility to girls and parents to reflect a broader view of beauty.”
Denmark's Lego, meanwhile, made headlines for showing its first-ever figurine of a child using a wheelchair.
While I enjoy the idea of a more inclusive set of toys and applaud Lego for the move, I wanted to know what that means to someone who's not me. Who wasn't a typical kid.
So I reached out to a friend who could provide a little more perspective.
Vic Doucette was born with cerebral palsy. He's also a longtime volunteer with the Miracle League of Michigan in Southfield, Mich., a baseball program with an accessible ball field that allows special needs kids to play ball just like their brothers and sisters and friends. (It's a great program.)
“When you're the kid with a disability, you spend a lot of time on the outside looking in,” he said. “You spend a lot of time looking at things that don't include you, don't represent you and sometimes, flat out don't want you. For a kid to see a Lego child figure in a wheelchair, now it means you count for something. Now it means you're not on the outside looking in. Now it means you're participating in the same thing that everyone else is participating in.
“That's something that's powerful and important. Nobody likes being excluded and if being excluded is a daily part of your life, all of a sudden to find yourself included is really powerful.”
It's not a matter of being politically correct, Vic says. It's the moment of hearing someone say “yes,” when all you've ever heard is the word “no.”
Little things like toys send a big signal.
A girl who's into science may get discouraged that all the toys aimed at future scientists are labeled as being for boys, but if she finds a doll representing a woman scientist, she may think: wait a minute, I can do that too.
And in a year when the Academy Awards are taking heat for nominating a slate of actors and actresses who are all white, it's worth noting that in December, when Mattel announced it would sell a Barbie based on Ava DuVernay, the black, female director of the film “Selma,” the doll sold out in one hour.
“Maybe if you're a mainstream American, maybe something like a toy doesn't seem like so much,” Vic told me, “but when you're not, and all of a sudden when you get included, it's like the sun has come out.”
Rhoda Miel is Plastics News' News editor. Follow her on Twitter @PNRhodaMiel