3:00pm

Fri April 6, 2012
Pop Culture

Toy Companies Debut Bald Dolls For Cancer

Barbie is best known for her curvy figure and long blond hair — but Mattel plans to produce a doll that's a dramatic departure from that classic image.

This Barbie will be bald.

Mattel decided to make the doll after a campaign by Jane Bingham, a survivor of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in Philadelphia. She started a Facebook group with her friend called "Beautiful and Bald Barbie." She tells Audie Cornish, host of All Things Considered, that they wanted the toymaker to create a doll for kids who have cancer or have lost their hair for medical reasons.

"One of the major reasons was to reduce the stigma for women and children who have hair loss — being not accepted to be able to go out in public without something covering their head, whether it be a wig or a scarf or that sort of thing," Bingham says. "Their beauty and their self-worth is not dependent upon their hair."

Barbie Is An 'Icon Of Beauty'

Bingham says she was drawn to Mattel, in part, because the company made a one-of-a-kind bald Barbie for a girl in New York City who lost her hair to chemotherapy.

"Barbie [is] the icon of beauty in the toy industry — she's known all over the world," she says.

The main purpose of the doll is to make female baldness more acceptable, Bingham says.

"I don't think it will ever make it really normal, but to be accepted and to be seen as not scary or strange," she says. "That's what really we want to show — that children and women should not feel ashamed and have to cover up their heads."

An Effort To Reduce Stigma

Bingham was inspired to start the campaign after she lost her own hair during chemotherapy last year. She says she could handle it as an adult but realized children might have a harder time with it.

"I felt such a passion about reducing this stigma and that I shouldn't be ashamed," she says. "I mean, I was going through a major fight in my life. And [the bald head] is almost like a symbol of the fight that I was going through."

After the Facebook campaign, Mattel announced it would make a few of the dolls and donate them to kids experiencing hair loss in cancer wards and hospitals. And, as the company explained in a statement, "We made the decision not to sell these dolls at retail stores, but rather get the dolls directly into the hands of children who can most benefit from the unique play experience."

Bingham says she is still fighting to get the dolls sold in stores. "A big reason that I even started this, I thought of all the children who have a family member who are going through hair loss and how many children would benefit from this," she says. "And as of right now, none of those children would have an opportunity to have one of these dolls."

In the meantime, another toymaker, MGA Entertainment, says it plans to debut bald versions of Bratz and Moxie Girlz this summer.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Barbie is undergoing a bit of a change. Barbie dolls are best-known for their curvy figures and long blond hair. But toymaker Mattel has a bald Barbie in the works. The reason, Jane Bingham, a survivor of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and a friend launched a Facebook campaign for Beautiful and Bald Barbie. It's for kids who have cancer or lose their hair for medical reasons.

Jane Bingham joins us from Philadelphia to talk more about it. Hi there, Jane.

JANE BINGHAM: Hello.

CORNISH: So, Jane, to start, what was important to you about having a hairless Barbie? Why did you think that could help or make a difference?

BINGHAM: One of the major reasons was to reduce the stigma for women and children who have hair loss, being not accepted to be able to go out in public without something covering their head, whether it be a wig or a scarf or that sort of thing. Their beauty and their self-worth is not dependent upon their hair.

CORNISH: Why did you think Barbie in particular would help.

BINGHAM: I had read an article, where Mattel had made a one-of-a-kind bald Barbie for a little girl in New York City who had lost her hair due to chemotherapy and then thinking about Barbie as the icon of beauty in the toy industry and she's known all over the world.

CORNISH: Is the idea that it would somehow make the vision of somebody who is bald, who has suffered from hair loss, make it sort of more normal for kids who are going through this themselves or have relatives going through it?

BINGHAM: Yeah. I don't think it'll ever make it, like, really normal. But to be accepted and to be seen as not scary or strange - that's what, really, we want to show and that the children and women should not have to feel ashamed and have to cover up their heads.

CORNISH: And you're a survivor, as we mentioned, of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, so you've been through this yourself.

BINGHAM: Yes. This past summer and throughout the fall, I was bald from chemotherapy. And, you know, as an adult, it's something I could deal with. I was able to - after a while, I was able to even just go out bald without worrying about what people were going to stare at me or not because I felt such a passion about reducing this stigma and that I shouldn't be ashamed. I mean, I was going through a major fight in my life and that's almost like a symbol of the fight that I was going through is the bald head.

CORNISH: So, Mattel decided that they would make the dolls, but that they wanted to essentially donate them directly to kids suffering from hair loss to cancer wards and hospitals instead of shipping it to the stores to sell. And why weren't you satisfied with that answer?

BINGHAM: It's very honorable that they said that, you know, they don't feel comfortable making a profit on these dolls. But as of right now, they are donating them, you know, to the sickest children. Also, a big reason that I even started this is I thought of all the children who have a family member who are going through hair loss and how many children would benefit from this. And as of right now, none of those children will have that opportunity to have one of these dolls.

CORNISH: Now that Mattel has taken this step, I notice that other toy companies have jumped in. You have Bratz and Moxie Girlz. It's another line of toys that are going to come out with bald dolls. What's important about Barbie?

BINGHAM: Well, we're thrilled about MGA releasing the bald Bratz and bald Moxie line. The biggest thing about the Barbie is that she is the fashion icon of the industry. She is the symbol of beauty that people have known for 50 years. So, I think it's really important to make these dolls available on the shelves.

CORNISH: Jane Bingham and her friend Rebecca Sypin started a Facebook campaign to encourage Mattel to start selling a bald and beautiful Barbie. Thank you so much, Jane.

BINGHAM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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