Fashion

Barbie’s new doll with a hearing aid reminds us to celebrate (not hide) our superpowers

When I was younger, I always played with Barbie dolls. They were so iconic that pretty much every girl I knew had one.

As much as we loved taking our Barbies to playdates to swap clothes and accessories, it was clear that our dolls had a lot in common: they were all blonde, thin, and had no visible disabilities, or – as I like to call them – superpowers. 

When I discovered that Mattel was releasing a new range of Barbie dolls, one of which has a visible behind-the-ear hearing aid, my inner child got so excited. Of course, it’s about time, and it should have happened sooner, but still, it’s great that young kids with hearing impairments can play with Barbies and finally see themselves represented. 

As the first woman with a cochlear implant to go on Love Island, I’m passionate about voicing my experiences and helping younger people accept and embrace themselves. When I stepped into that villa, I knew I was breaking boundaries and changing how people with hearing impairments are perceived. But I haven’t always felt as confident as I do now. 

In school, I wasn’t taught that having a superpower was OK, which is why I don’t like to use the word “disability” because I feel quite segregated by it, as though people with superpowers are just one little group who should be separated from people without them. 

I constantly thought, “Why me?… Why was I given this?” It didn’t help that I never saw myself represented in popular culture. In fact, it felt like representation wasn’t even a thing. You would never see a cochlear implant or a hearing aid on TV shows, let alone on the toys I played with. 

As a teenager, I didn’t have any confidence. I used to always hide my implant and didn’t like talking about it. I look back, and I wish it wasn’t like that, but at that age, you’re still trying to figure out who you are, and you compare yourself to other people so much more. It was a lot for me to handle, but eventually, I learned that my implant is something special that I’ve got, which should be embraced rather than hidden away. 

It was getting involved with dancing that really helped build my confidence in the end. Dancing is a place of freedom, and you never get judged in this industry. It’s so free and accepting. Dance is a way to express your emotions which is why it’s my safe place.

Even when I went viral with ASOS for being their first model to wear a cochlear implant, I was amazed by people’s reactions. It was fantastic that the image went viral, but it still showed how much work there is left to do when representing disabilities. I want to live in a world where pictures like that are totally normal!

Photographer Jason TidwellStylist Sheryl Fetrick©2021 Mattel