Image Source: Diane Bondareff / Associated Press
Mattel announced today the release of a new Barbie doll within its Sheroes program featuring professional ballerina Misty Copeland. Copeland broke down barriers last year when she became the first African-American female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, a dream she's worked toward since she was 13 years old.
POPSUGAR: Congratulations! This is such huge and exciting news for both you and Barbie. What does it mean for you to be able to inspire a new generation of young girls through this project?
Misty Copeland: I mean, I feel like Barbie has such an impact on so many generations for so many different reasons. They're always pushing the boundaries, so for Barbie to represent this image that I am — which is a powerful, strong, black ballerina — I feel like she represents diversity and change in America. So it's pretty powerful to take such an iconic figure like Barbie and have you be a version of that. It's amazing!
PS: I know you worked intimately to help design the doll. For you, what was the most important part of the process?
MC: Her body. For it to truly represent me, but also what dancers are — athletes. I wanted to make sure that she didn't have Barbie's figure — the Barbie that we know — but that she had muscles! She has calf muscles and thigh muscles and a bust. I mean, Barbie has a bust, but I wanted to make sure that stayed. Just because she's a ballerina we didn't want to all of a sudden alter that to what people think a ballerina is.
So the body was definitely extremely important, having her have "articulated limbs" so she can move and bend, and even just the placement of her fingers — they're very different than Barbie's because they're like ballerina hands — was important.
And then of course we worked to make her face look similar, to give her a nose that's a little wider, fuller lips, almond-shaped eyes, and the right hair color. It was such a fun process, especially deciding what she was going to wear, which was something that we came up with immediately. The Firebird costume is such a big part of my career and what got me here; it was a significant role for me, so it's great that she's wearing that.
PS: You mentioned getting the body just right. Kids are faced with so much regarding body image and from such a young age now. Did you face any sort of body image struggles when you were growing up?
MC: I think more as a young professional it was something that really affected me. Growing up, I was so thin and skinny, and I had these big feet and big muscles — even though I didn't do anything actively before I started dancing — so for me that was hard because I didn't look like what I thought was beautiful. And then to find ballet and to literally have all things things that I thought were "wrong" with me be right for ballet was so crazy, like, "Oh my gosh, I finally found this space for me to exist where I am beautiful."
It all kind of flipped upside down when I hit puberty and my body changed, and it took me reassessing everything to realize that I could make my body beautiful in its own way, strong in its own way, and it doesn't have to look like the person next to me as long as I'm healthy and in the best shape that I can be in. So yes, I definitely struggled with that as a young professional at ABT. It's important for every young person to own their individuality — that's what makes them beautiful.
PS: Did your family — your mom, specifically — shape the way you developed into a confident woman who loves her body?
MC: My mom was always very healthy. And my siblings, we all look so different and have different bodies and I think that definitely made me feel like there are so many different ways of being beautiful. We are just kind of like the rainbow, my family — we're all different shades. I think that definitely was something that was always in the back of my mind.
PS: How do you maintain a healthy mindset now when ballet has such strict requirements?
MC: I feel like people's ideas of what ballet is like are very extreme. ABT has kind of been a leader in that they've accepted dancers from all over the world with different training, who look different, who have different bodies. I think that's something that sets us apart from a lot of top companies, that we've kind of paved that way. But the dancer's body evolves — with trends and what we're eating and how different generations change the way we look at health and nutrition. So we exist in the world as ballerinas, but we're affected in the same ways as others, and I think dancers have accepted being both athletic and womanly. I think it's important that we empower young kids to know that it's OK to be all of those things.
PS: You've broken so much ground throughout your career. What's your biggest piece of advice for young girls in terms of pursuing their passions and loving their bodies?
MC: To not compare yourself to other people. That's such a big thing in ballet in particular. To exist in the court of ballet, you want to look uniform and you all want to look the same, but it's important to know that you will never be someone else and that it's OK to be yourself, to be an individual. That's what's so beautiful about life and being a human being, just to kind of own all of that.
PS: Do you think that's what you would go back and tell the 13-year-old version of yourself who had the dream to be a part of the American Ballet Theatre?
MC: Yes! I think I'd say, "There are going to be challenges along the way, and you're going to evolve physically, emotionally, and mentally. Just appreciate all of those changes and the evolutions of Misty!"
Look through to see photos of the Misty Copeland Barbie Doll ($30) and her unique features.