Barbie turns 60 on Saturday, and in a perfect marketing homage to International Women’s Day, toy manufacturer Mattel has released modern-day role models to inspire young girls.
Veteran Australian journalist – and incoming ABC chair – Ita Buttrose is rendered plastic fantastic in 20-something Barbie form with a polished “Buttrose bob” and a black handbag with a newspaper peeking out of the top.
Japanese tennis superstar Naomi Osaka is ready to claim her next grand slam with a racquet and tennis ball, poised in her small plastic hands.
But is Barbie forgetting her unattainable anatomical proportions and hot-pink convertible to cash in on the women’s movement and era of #metoo?
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@Naomi_Osaka_) March 7, 2019
The #MoreRoleModel dolls released for Barbie’s 60th anniversary subvert the blonde-white-girl mainstay so many of us grew up with.
Instead of the swimsuit and heels, model and activist Adwoa Aboah’s figurine struts in a flared-sleeve sequinned dress and turban.
Barbie rocks Italian soccer player Sara Gama’s afro.
The doll is in a wheelchair to celebrate German cycling champion, Kristina Vogel. She represents Maori woman and sports journalist presenter, Melodie Robinson, and she even dons a visibility suit as a professional truck driver after Polish “truckie” Iwona Blecharczyk.
To see all the modern role model barbies, click here.
Ms Buttrose said she hoped her Barbie doll would help young girls remember they “can be anything they want to be”
“My experience tells me there’s always a way around obstacles. You just have to be determined to find it,” she said.
For a doll who was once programmed to complain that “math class is tough”, Barbie is embracing more diverse career paths, ethnicities and differences.
But this doesn’t make Barbie a feminist icon, according to RMIT senior marketing lecturer, Lauren Gurrieri, an expert in gender-based marketing.
“It’s very positive that they are using a variety of different role models and are focusing on different career pathways; it’s a positive message,” Dr Gurrieri told The New Daily.
“The problem is that it’s Barbie doing this at the end of the day,” she said.
The gender-marketing researcher said the Barbie version of influential artist Frida Khalo confirmed Barbie still replicated a range of unrealistic beauty ideals and standards.
Khalo’s Barbie has bushy eyebrows, but the artist’s signature uni-brow has been erased from the doll’s highly symmetrical face.
“How they represent her is a very telling omission,” Dr Gurrieri said.
“The narrative of their careers is relegated to the [toy] box and what you’re left with is the physical Barbie, the material object,” she said.
“How she looks is the focus.”
Dr Gurrieri said toy company Mattel was engaging in “commodity feminism”, noting it was no coincidence the role model Barbies were released on International Women’s Day.
In 2016, at the height of the “body positivity movement”, Barbie launched new body shapes with an aim to seem more inclusive, but it went beyond sentiment.
After a 20 per cent drop in sales between 2012 and 2014, Mattel introduced new skin tones and hair texture. In 2016 and 2017, the curvier red-headed doll was the toy company’s best seller.
“This is a well-timed corporate decision that goes back to commodity feminism and turning feminism into a product,” Dr Gurrieri said.