The Barbie Doll that Didn’t Make It

The Barbie Doll that Didn’t Make It

Last week, Mattel made national news when it unveiled a new line of Barbie dolls. Often criticized for her anatomically incorrect figure, Barbie will now be available in three new body types—tall, petite, and curvy.

“This is radical because we are saying that there isn’t this narrow standard of what a beautiful body looks like. This is what our future looks like because this is what the world looks like,” said Robert Best senior director of product design in a video that touted boldly, #TheDollEvolves.

Good luck with that, I muttered under my breath when I first read it.

Not all Barbie dolls make it.

In May of 1997, three months after my paralysis, Mattel introduced a new doll, a friend of Barbie’s who used a wheelchair.

Her name was Becky. “Share a Smile Becky.”

It was a chilling discovery for me at the time. Someone mailed me the newspaper announcement with a note attached, quipping, “You trendsetter, you!”

Too soon, is all I could think. Too soon.

At that point, I still had tremendous hope that I would walk again. I’d been paralyzed from the waist down in a matter of six hours. The subsequent diagnosis was transverse myelitis, a rare inflammation of the spinal cord that affects about one in a million. One-third recover fully; one-third recover partially, and one-third experience no recovery at all. I’d recovered the vision in my left eye so I had hope that the rest of my body would soon follow suit.

I unfolded the newspaper, shuddering at the headline. “Barbie’s newest girlfriend is wheelchair-bound Becky.” I squinted at the photo of the long-haired, light-eyed woman and read the caption: Share a Smile Becky: Mattel and Toys “R” Us believe the doll with help improve attitudes about people with disabilities.

Share a smile becky article

Wheelchair-bound Becky. I hated seeing those words in print, much less knowing my name and this disabled doll would be linked forever in toy stores. I almost shredded it, but then decided I’d shove it into my Plan B folder, the one where I kept all the “useless” (so I prayed) paralysis info.

Seventeen years later, I’m still here, and so is my wheelchair.

But Share a Smile Becky isn’t.

Despite the best of intentions, including a partnership with Toys “R” Us, support from the disability community, a national launch from Washington DC timed to coincide with the Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and a reported presentation of a Becky doll to President Clinton, Mattel discontinued Share a Smile Becky along with the follow-up dolls, “Becky the School Photographer” and “Becky the Paralympic Champion.”

Apparently Becky’s wheelchair didn’t fit in Barbie’s Dream House. Or her car. Or allow Becky to use all of the Barbie-related products.

Bless her heart.

share a smile Becky

Some say it would have been too costly for Mattel to make Barbie’s world accessible to Becky’s.

I get that. Like the doll, I’m a hard friend to have. My wheelchair often separates me, limits me, and creates an obstacle in the best of circumstances, even for those who have the best of intentions. My family and many of my friends have gone to extraordinary and costly means to include me in their lives. For their generous kindness, I am grateful.

I guess it just wasn’t a good business decision for Mattel.

Bless their hearts.

I’m glad family and friendships aren’t run like a business.

Aren’t you?

So I wonder, have you received a generous kindness from a family member or friend? One that was probably not a good “business” decision? Tell me about it. I’d love to know.

So best wishes to all the new Barbie dolls. And for all those youngsters receiving the new “evolving” Barbie, I wish for you a real world filled with love, acceptance, and a sustaining generous kindness beyond what any toy manufacturer may choose to represent.

And to all those kind and generous souls who make the extra effort to include me and be my friend, thank you.

My best—always,

Becky  (Nana B)

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  1. Helen Robinson says

    How true…..I coundn’t agree more!! I often have thought that I am a hard friend to have around but have learnt true friends will go that extra mile to ensure we can have good times together!
    Take care