Mattel Introduces Transgender Barbie, But Truth of Human Nature Is Beyond Their Ken

The toy company claims the doll is a response to ‘research’ showing that ‘kids don’t want their toys dictated by gender norms.’

Transgender activist Laverne Cox attends the “A Very Barbie Birthday” celebration at Magic Hour at The Moxy Hotel Rooftop on May 26 in New York.
Transgender activist Laverne Cox attends the “A Very Barbie Birthday” celebration at Magic Hour at The Moxy Hotel Rooftop on May 26 in New York. (photo: Charles Sykes / Invision / AP)

Mattel recently released the brand’s first transgender Barbie doll, modeled after transgender Orange Is the New Black actor and activist Laverne Cox.

Dressed in an oxblood-red ball gown, made of a faux leather top and tulle skirt, and a sparkly silver bodysuit underneath, Cox’s doll first went up for sale online on May 25. It sells for $40.

Under Cox’s name, Mattel donated to TransFamilySOS, an organization that describes its mission as “sav[ing] lives by shaping a gender affirming and accepting Community.”

On Mattel’s website, the doll’s description reads, “As a four-time Emmy-nominated actress, Emmy-winning producer, and the first transgender woman of color to have a leading role on a scripted TV show, Laverne Cox uses her voice to amplify the message of moving beyond societal expectations to live more authentically.”

Mattel released the doll as part of the Tribute Collection, which will also honor Lucille Ball and Queen Elizabeth II. In the past, Mattel has released dolls based on celebrities including Audrey Hepburn, Jennifer Lopez and Zendaya. 

In a statement, Lisa McKnight, executive vice president and global head of Barbie, said, “We couldn’t be more excited to celebrate award-winning actress, producer, writer, and LGBTQ+ rights trailblazer Laverne Cox with a doll. We are proud to highlight the importance of inclusion and acceptance at every age and to recognize Laverne’s significant impact on culture with a Tribute Collection Barbie.” 

Cox described working closely with Barbie to create the doll as a dream. 

“I can’t wait for fans to find my doll on shelves and have the opportunity to add a Barbie doll modeled after a transgender person to their collection. I hope that people can look at this Barbie and dream big like I have in my career,” Cox said in a statement. “The space of dreaming and manifesting is such a powerful source and leads you to achieve more than what you originally thought was possible.”

The actor said what’s most exciting is knowing young transgender people can play with a doll made “in the likeness of a trans person.” 

“In this environment where trans kids are being attacked … this can also be a celebration of transness, and also a space for them to dream, understand, and be reminded that trans is beautiful,” Cox said.

Previously, Mattel released a collection of gender-neutral dolls in 2019, which was called “Creatable World” and allowed children to customize Barbie and Ken dolls. The kits sold for $30 each. An ad for the collection ran with the slogan, “A doll line designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in.”

In a statement regarding the gender-neutral line, Kim Culmone, senior vice president, said, “Toys are a reflection of culture and as the world continues to celebrate the positive impact of inclusivity, we felt it was time to create a doll line free of labels. Through research, we heard that kids don’t want their toys dictated by gender norms. This line allows all kids to express themselves freely, which is why it resonates so strongly with them.”

Such marketing is not sitting well with all observers.

This brings to mind the 2017 letter from U.S. bishops and other religious leaders, “Created Male and Female,” which concluded, “We hope for renewed appreciation of the beauty of sexual difference in our culture and for authentic support of those who experience conflict with their God-given sexual identity.”