Mattel looks to redefine 'who a doll is for' with gender-neutral toy

BOSTON — Mattel has just released a gender-neutral doll called the Creatable World Doll.

Each kit comes with one doll that can be dressed up in a variety of outfits and can either have long or short hair. The gender identity of the doll is in the eye of the beholder.

"Creatable World allows us to redefine what a doll is and who a doll is for," said Mattel Senior Vice President Kim Culmone. "We want to broaden the conversation about who gets invited to play with dolls."

The doll comes on the market as more young people see themselves outside the confines of being defined as a boy or a girl.  A recent study by UCLA found 27 percent of California teenagers identify as gender non-conforming.

"I hope that what Creatable World does is allow more children to see themselves reflected in the toys they play with," said Culmone. "When we see ourselves played back to us in the media, in culture, in toys, it's a really beautiful thing."

Defining toys based on gender has been largely phased out as major retailers have eliminated Boys and Girls sections in recent years.

"Any kind of toy that opens more ways of exploring and understanding the world, I think, is positive," said Suffolk University Associate Professor of Psychology David Langer, Ph.D.

Langer says gender gets on a child's radar very early in life.

"At around 2 years old, children start to get a sense of what gender is, and at around 3 years old they get a sense of what their gender is and how they feel, and by 4 years old, they're usually pretty stable in their gender identity."

Jim James, of Park Street Books and Toys in Medfield, understands how this doll could make some people uncomfortable, but he likes the concept and thinks the doll is well-made.

James also says Mattel is making a good business decision.

"I think it's a mistake to market a toy to just a boy or to a girl, or to any certain demographic," explained James. "I think that if you open it up wider and wider, you're going to sell to a bigger audience."

Taking a progressive approach has worked for Mattel in the past. Several years ago, they updated Barbie, adding body shapes like tall, and curvy.  Sales have been up, including a 14 percent spike last year.