Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Barbie Inspires Girls with "Inspiring Women"

Barbie gets criticized a lot. Rather, Mattel gets criticized a lot for what they've done with Barbie over the years. From unrealistic body proportions to "math is hard" speaking dolls to expectations about beauty, Mattel has made some missteps here and there.

But sometimes, they get it right. Two years ago, in one of my very first Play Like a Pirate blog posts, I wrote about Mattel coming out with different body types, skin colors, and hair textures. This went a long way toward girls being able to see themselves in the toy, which makes sense for Mattel's bottom line, but is also a very human gesture to a rapidly diversifying world. Let girls (and women, and kids and adults generally) see women more like them, more like the women in their own lives they look up to.

Yesterday, in honor of International Women's Day, Mattel unveiled their "Inspiring Women" line of dolls. These seventeen dolls represent historic and modern women from various nations, ethnicities, and careers, in a diversity of roles that is truly inspiring.



Some of the dolls have been out for a while it seems, under a "Sheros" (she-heroes) branding, while others are brand new to the lineup. The first three under the Inspiring Women brand are pilot Amelia Earhart, artist Frida Kahlo, and mathematician Katherine Johnson.


There are things to criticize about the dolls (and it's the internet, so of course there will be critics). Frida without a unibrow just isn't Frida. They also could have put braces on her legs. Katherine Johnson is probably a little too pale. All of the dolls are "idealized, Barbie-ized" versions of the real women. All of that said, I applaud the step in the right direction that Mattel is taking. They've done celebrity tribute dolls for decades -- Judy Garland as Dorothy, Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara...but relatively few Real Women as Real Women. I love the lineup that they've chosen for this series:
  • Amelia Earhart - Pilot
  • Frida Kahlo - Artist
  • Katherine Johnson - NASA Mathematician/Physicist
  • Patty Jenkins - Director (most recently of Wonder Woman)
  • Chloe Kim - Snowboarding Champion
  • Nicola Adams Obe - Boxing Champion
  • Helene Darroze - Chef
  • Sara Gama - Soccer Champion
  • Martyna Wojciechowska - Journalist
  • Ibtihaj Muhammad - Fencing Champion
  • Gabby Douglas - Gymnastics Champion
  • Ashley Graham - Model, Body Activist
  • Bindi Irwin - Conservationist
  • Yuan Yuan Tan - Ballerina
  • Leyla Piedayesh - Designer
  • Xiaotong Guan - Actress
  • Ava Duvernay - Director
  • Hui Ruoqi - Volleyball Champion
Each of the women has a profile including a biography, their major accomplishments, and photos of the woman and their doll on the Inspiring Women site. Mattel has also included PDF activity sheets for Earhart, Kahlo, and Johnson; each two page sheet has inspiring achievements, quotes, and a "circle the qualities that made ______ a role model." Things like Curious, Persuasive, Assertive, Humble, Genius" -- things that we all want our daughters (and students)(and sons)(and students) to be. I wouldn't use those sheets in a classroom per se, but they can set the stage for other activities and lesson plans that help students find their own role models. 

I recognize and respect the pink baggage that Barbie carries for a lot of us. But when one of the largest toy companies in the world tells kids and adults that there are more reasons to look up to women than just their pink Townhouse, pink Glam Convertible and pink Dreamtopia Sweetville Carriage, it has a ripple effect. Celebrating some of the most inspiring women in our time is the right thing to do. I'm glad Mattel is doing it. 



See more ideas about how to use Barbie, Hot Wheels, action figures and LEGO in the classroom in Play Like a Pirate: Engage Students with Toys, Games, and Comics! 

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