Just in time for the holiday season, Mattel is breaking new ground with what it calls the world’s first gender-neutral doll. The series, dubbed Creatable World, launched on September 25.
“Carefully manicured features betray no obvious gender: the lips are not too full, the eyelashes not too long and fluttery, the jaw not too wide,” TIME observes. “There are no Barbie-like breasts or broad, Ken-like shoulders. Each doll in the Creatable World series looks like a slender 7-year-old with short hair, but each comes with a wig of long, lustrous locks and a wardrobe befitting any fashion-conscious kid: hoodies, sneakers, graphic T-shirts in soothing greens and yellows, along with tutus and camo pants.”
It’s “a doll line designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in,” according to the slogan, and it comes at a time when gender fluidity and gender nonconformity are finally part of the cultural conversation, when parents are pushing back against gendered clothing and toys for their kids, and when labels are exiting stage right.
The dolls are not a statement, the company says, just a blank slate that can be customized and re-customized at the whim of each young owner. “We’re not in the business of politics,” Mattel President Richard Dickson tells TIME, “and we respect the decision any parent makes around how they raise their kids. Our job is to stimulate imaginations. Our toys are ultimately canvases for cultural conversation, but it’s your conversation, not ours; your opinion, not ours.”
Consider how far we’ve come since 2011, when Dr. Phil advised parents to stick to gender-conforming clothing and toys, as Queerty reported at the time. “Don’t buy him Barbie dolls or girl’s clothes,” the TV host told the father of a 5-year-old. “You don’t want to do things that seem to support the confusion at this stage of the game … Take the girl things away, and buy him boy toys.”
Dr. Phil’s mind may not have changed since then, and a lot of other parents will probably boycott the Creatable World line. But Mattel is ready for the pushback.
“If all the parents who saw the dolls said, ‘This is what we’ve been waiting for,’ we wouldn’t be doing our jobs,” says Monica Dreger, head of consumer insights at Mattel. “That would mean this should have already been in the market. So we’re maybe a little behind where kids are, ahead of where parents are, and that’s exactly where we need to be.”
The company tested the doll with 250 families from seven states, including 15 kids who identify as gender-nonbinary or gender-fluid. “There were a couple of gender-creative kids who told us that they dreaded Christmas Day because they knew whatever they got under the Christmas tree, it wasn’t made for them,” Dreger says. “This is the first doll that you can find under the tree and see is for them because it can be for anyone.”