When I was little, I would spend hours playing secretary. I wanted to be like my mom in the ’70s, when she spent her pre-motherhood days commuting into Manhattan and working as a legal secretary. Those were her “glory days” and she would speak of them often when we were young and she was a stay-at-home mom to three kids.
I wanted to be like her, and had she been a doctor, a lawyer, an acrobat, I probably would have had different goals at that age. But when you’re young, your dreams are as big as you can imagine and often your scope of the world is limited by what you see before you.
As I grew older, my ideas of the world and my own possibilities expanded and changed. At times I wanted to be a museum curator, a fashion merchandiser, or a Victorian literature professor. When I was 8, my mom opened a small store and worked to grow it into a thriving local business in the years that followed. I didn’t share her same passion for business, but working alongside her from high school through college taught me if I wanted to, I could — a lesson I have carried with me through my career. If I want to, I can.
But some are not as fortunate as I have been to have a female role model who not only told me I could be anything I wanted, but showed me that she could make something from (quite literally at the time) nothing, by launching a successful business on a high school education and a small loan. Some women have to rely more on characters on TV and in books, or yes — Barbie.
“What happens when girls are free to imagine they can be anything?”
A new video from Mattel came out this week in support of Barbie’s “Imagine the Possibilities” campaign which aims to show how the iconic doll can help young girls realize that they can achieve anything they want in life. It’s their answer to all the backlash they’ve faced in recent years from critics who feel Barbie is the embodiment of the anti-feminist; a model of unrealistic gender ideals that subtly reinforces the notion that to be worthy you have to hold yourself to an impossible standard of beauty.
In the two-minute commercial, five girls pretend to be professionals in various fields: a college professor, a soccer coach, a veterinarian, a businesswoman, and a museum tour guide. At the end, it culminates with a little girl playing with her Barbies — showing that she believes she can do anything, and it all starts at home with her dolls and her imagination. Since it was uploaded on October 8, the video has been watched over 3.6 million times on YouTube.
And it’s a noble message for Barbie to be imparting.
Sure, over the years, Barbie has held over 150 careers — including everything from a nurse to a veterinarian to a police officer. She even went to the moon four years before Neil Armstrong and ran for President two decades before our first female candidate. But she did all that with a waist that could only reasonably have room for half a liver and a few inches of intestines, and ankles so small she would barely be able to support her body, according to a report by Rehabs.com. In short, her body is not just the ideal — it’s anatomically impossible for any woman to achieve.
Thankfully, Mattel isn’t hasn’t just revamped their marketing strategy. They’ve answered the call — and the clear message being sent by a rapid fall in sales — by unveiling 78 new dolls this year. Of those new dolls are superheroes based on the bodies of actual female teen athletes, a talking Barbie, and a diverse line that includes African-American, Asian, and mixed-race features, like the new limited-edition Zendaya doll complete with iconic dreadlocks. The line also includes bendable ankles so that the doll can wear flats instead of heels.
Because let’s face it: if a girl doesn’t recognize herself in her doll, then she is only living vicariously as she plays, subconsciously telling herself that one day she can be exactly like Barbie. She’s pretending she is Barbie — perfect hair, waist, and all — not that Barbie is her.
Time will tell if this new generation of dolls will have a more positive impact on girls, and if moms who once swore they would never buy their daughter a Barbie will change their tune.More On