For such a diminutive stature, Barbie sure knows how to stir some controversy. Countless articles and research studies have been conducted about her influence on young people, culture, and perceptions of women.
“Adult issues should not be put upon a plastic toy or a little girl,” says 16 year-old author, Justina Sharp in her fantastic piece on the iconic Barbie.
I have a 5 year old daughter who loves Barbie. Regardless of where I am on the Barbie-As-Influencer spectrum, CJ likes Barbie and she asks me to play Barbies all the time. All. The. Time. Which is awesome.
Typically I’m in charge of two sisters named Anna and Elsa and CJ is in charge of their Mom. What this means for me is that I’m constantly dreaming up scenarios for my Barbies to act out. I’ve recently realized that my own perceptions of Barbie (mostly negative) were manifesting themselves in very narrow and unimaginative situations. I wasn’t applying enough detail and interest to my Barbie situations. And by doing that, I was totally missing an opportunity to break some Barbie perceptions. And, let’s be honest, demonstrating some broader and more interesting options for CJ to consider.
CJ is smart. Capable. Curious. And a sponge. The scenarios I play out for Barbie and her friends is a clear indication of what I perceive is possible for Barbie, and thus what CJ interprets as how the world works. In some ways. I think this is especially true because I’m making it up. I have the ability to dream big for Barbie. And I say, make her awesome.
Here is an example of a new scenario I played out for my Barbies, in impossibly high heels and perfect make-up (for Barbie, not me!):
Both of my Barbies are software developers with important deadlines facing them. They are tasked with finishing an enterprise implementation for their biggest client and they have just gotten home from a busy day.
Anna: “Phew, what a day! We have to get this next sprint completed before Friday or the launch will have to push.”
Elsa: “I know! Do you think the team will rally and get it done tomorrow with an all-nighter?”
Anna: “Totally! We have the best scrum master in the city on the project. She’s doing an amazing job of keeping everyone focussed. I did a test before we left and we are really close. I’ll check it again tonight.”
Elsa: “I’ll get back to the code after my swim. I need to clear my head! It’s the only way I can focus.”
Anna: “I hear you. I’ve been meditating more lately and seeing a big difference in my attention. I’m more present.”
Elsa: “Me too! When we were in undergrad at MIT it was something I could have used for sure. Oh well, now we know, right?!”
They give each other a high-five and go for a swim.
You get the idea. I now dream up scenarios that show CJ the paths that are possible for women … and by virtue of association, what’s possible for her. Perhaps in response to some of Barbie’s critics over the years, or maybe because this is who Barbie has always been to young people, Matel has released this ad, which pretty much sums up everything I’m talking about.
I’m no master of early childhood development so I’m not sure if my tactics are making a difference. I’m a Mom. I’m an entrepreneur. I’m interested in looking at things differently. I’m hopeful that CJ and her friends will never question their ability to run the company. Their ability to have a technology career. Their ability to run for public office and win. Their ability to blaze new trails.
Barbie is such a polarizing figure at only a few inches tall. She looks how she looks, but I can make anything happen for Barbie. She can throw on a pair of impossibly high heels and forge new paths with confidence, like becoming President.