Why Barbie making a scoliosis doll is so important for representation

Mattel have introduced a new Barbie doll with scoliosis. (Mattel/PA Images)
Mattel have introduced a new Barbie doll with scoliosis. (Mattel/PA Images)

Barbie maker Mattel has made history by introducing its first doll with scoliosis.

The toy company’s line for Barbie’s little sister, Chelsea, will see a new addition that features curvature of the spine and a removable back brace, aimed at normalising the equipment and encouraging children to celebrate inclusion.

It's news that no doubt will be welcomed by the estimated 2-3% of the UK population living with scoliosis, including me.

I was diagnosed with the condition aged 10 after my parents spotted one of my hips was higher than the other and I had something of a "wonky" stance.

According to the NHS, scoliosis is a back condition where the spine twists and curves to the side.

While it can affect people of any age, it most commonly starts in children aged 10 to 15 to coincide with adolescence.

Signs of scoliosis include a visibly curved spine, leaning to one side, uneven shoulders, one shoulder or hip sticking out, the ribs sticking out on one side and clothes not fitting well.

Tick, tick, tick and er, tick.

In most cases, including my own, the cause of scoliosis is unknown. This is called idiopathic scoliosis.

Read more: What causes back pain and how to deal with it

Scoliosis is most common in children aged ten to 15. (Getty Images)
Scoliosis is most common in children aged ten to 15. (Getty Images)

As the NHS points out, idiopathic scoliosis cannot be prevented and is not thought to be linked to things such as bad posture, exercise or diet, but your genes may make you more likely to get it, as it sometimes runs in families.

Less commonly, scoliosis may be caused by the bones in the spine not forming properly in the womb – this is called congenital scoliosis and is present from birth.

It can also be caused by an underlying nerve or muscle condition, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy – this is called neuromuscular scoliosis.

Watch: Three in five of us are always thinking about our back pain

Meanwhile, degenerative scoliosis, which affects older adults, is caused by wear and tear of the spine with age.

Treatment of the condition can depend on your age, how severe the curve is, and whether it's likely to get worse with time, but can include plaster casts, back braces and in some cases surgery to control the growth of the spine until an operation to straighten it can be done when the patient stops growing.

While doctors were undecided whether my own curved spine required surgery, my parents were keen to try less severe treatments first.

So, aged 11, and in my first few months of secondary school I was fitted with a plaster cast, or 'jacket' as it was described by doctors then.

Read more: Mums delighted by new black Barbie who wears her hair natural and uses a wheelchair to enter Dreamhouse

A little like the casts you'd have fitted for a broken leg, the jacket was something of an oversized hard vest and was pretty difficult to hide under my smart, new uniform.

After three months, it was replaced with a plastic back brace, which I was to wear for 23 hours a day until I stopped growing, which in my case was just after I turned 17.

Apart from in hospital, when I was in a ward with other children with the condition, I never met anyone else who was living with scoliosis.

And I'd be lying if I said I didn't sometimes feel alone in my struggles: trying to hide my brace under clothes (I found shellsuits to be the best, remember them?), trying to concentrate on lessons and not the itch right at the bottom of my brace and wanting to do everything my friends could do.

The condition is thought to affect 2-3% of the population. (Getty Images)
The condition is thought to affect 2-3% of the population. (Getty Images)

So I have to admit I was overjoyed when I learned Mattel were introducing a Barbie doll with the condition.

Back then, I would have loved the idea of a doll who was just like me and hearing the news this morning sparked a stark reminder of the importance of representation, something Mattel seem particularly good at in their ongoing drive to introduce inclusive ranges of their popular toys.

The team at Mattel worked closely with Dr Luke Macyszyn, a board-certified neurosurgeon and specialist in children’s complex spinal disorders, who advised the designers throughout the doll’s development.

The 6in (15cm) doll wears a pink dress and has a removable green back brace, white shoes, and her brown hair is styled in waves.

Read more: Back and neck stretches to try if you're WFH

Commenting on the new scoliosis doll addition Lisa McKnight, executive vice president and global head of Barbie and Dolls at Mattel, says: “We believe in the power of representation and are committed to creating dolls in a variety of looks so that kids can see themselves in Barbie – and now in a line celebrating Barbie’s little sister, Chelsea.

“We’re proud to launch the first-ever Chelsea doll with a removable back brace to continue to be more reflective of the world kids see around them."

So a big round of applause to Mattel from me. You've made this "wonky" girl very happy!

For further information about scoliosis visit Scoliosis Association UK.

Additional reporting PA.