When I was young, I had a Barbie in a red skirt-jacket ensemble. I called her Alison to differentiate her from her identical sisters. She would take the pink train with moving window scenery to various meetings all away across America; or rather, what my young mind had gathered America was like from watching TV. Alison was a professor of archaeology and she would go the University of Salem, the University of Saved by the Bell, and the University of whatever Mary Kate and Ashley movie I just watched. She gave talks on the importance of dinosaurs, and explained to eager Action Man dolls just why Jurassic Park was the single most accurate movie of all time.
I could tell you hundreds of stories like this. The running soap opera that occurred when me and my cousin played Barbies together, and exactly why was Ken so determined to ruin his marriage with Aimee’s dolls; the time ballerina Barbie, Skipper and June in the striped jumper started a band/babysitting service; the time my Rapunzel doll discovered she had an evil twin because someone got me a doll I already for Christmas and I immediately wanted an epic showdown.
In short, Barbie was a big part of childhood. It was a big part of many of our childhoods.
That’s not to say Barbie isn’t flawed. There have been many mistakes over the years, including racism and cultural appropriation, bad body image encouragement, and downright sexist and ill-thought-out marketing exercises.
It’s why I was so excited to see this new advertising campaign:
Barbie’s power has always been that she can do anything. Yes, she has been a fairy, princess or mermaid in multiple dolls/movies. But she’s also entered career paths that have been male-dominated. She has been President before any real life woman in America. She has been an army medic, an Olympic skater and firefighter; and this was just the 1990s!
There’s a running joke in the phenomenal webseries Life in the Dreamhouse which fits in with this idea. Barbie will declare that they need a professional—for example a vet—to which Skipper would reply: “Weren’t you a vet?”. She has a whole room of her dreamhouse dedicated to her past uniforms, still in their original packaging. It’s a great series, full of charm and nods to Barbie history. It’s aware of its problems, just like the characters are aware they’re dolls. I would recommend people watch it, if only for its snappy writing.
Barbie encourages play as little girls want to play. If you want to be like Aimee and lead the life of a housewife and mother, there was toys and accessories for that. If you wanted to be like me and have an exciting life as a professor or rockstar, she could do that too.
I like dolls still. I’m more of a collector now, but I see the appeal of them. I still like the Barbie movies, old and new. And watching this new advert—this saccharine and almost too cute advert—I’m glad to see Barbie back doing what she does best.