Do These Recent Barbie Campaigns Indicate A More Empowering Direction For Mattel?


It’s no secret that we have been fairly critical of Barbie’s presence in young girls’ lives. With the Mattel-produced doll line overwhelmingly dominating the toy market compared to any other doll, it’s easy to see why it has been such an influence for younger girls since Barbie came on the scene in 1959. Many have criticized the makers of Barbie over the years for the unrealistic portrayal of physical beauty, the emphasis on superficial external qualities rather than the internal, and the fact that she has over 150 careers, which doesn’t exactly say much for consistency or working toward a greater goal in life.

It seems the toy manufacturer is becoming increasingly aware of the shift in public perception toward Barbie, especially with the growing popularity of more empowering options for girls toys such as Goldieblox, Lammily Doll and parents around the world who are creating their own line of dolls that are more realistic and diverse, such as the Queens of Africa created by a man in Nigeria to represent the young girls in his country who are clearly not accurately portrayed in any of Barbie’s incarnations.

With the recent push to create more female heroes in mainstream media and entertainment, Mattel have created some campaigns that indicate they want to sew up the empowerment market and tap into a generation of girls who are growing up excited about STEM careers, rather than the stereotypical attributes Barbie has been known for in the past such as fashion, beauty etc.

There have been a number of times this push has failed to hit the target, such as Barbie’s Linkedin Page (trying to make a doll look like a legitimate career woman is hard when she’s not actually human…not sure who the company was targeting with that idea…) and who can forget the computer engineering Barbie blunder which reiterated the typical narrative of girls not being interested in or skilled at tech jobs.



But there are a few positive steps that seem to show that the company is not giving up yet. Remember, they have decades of narrow-minded representation and marketing to work against, so we’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Not too long ago they released a line of “Sheroes” dolls based on real life heroic women in various fields, such as Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay. The only catch was that these weren’t actually available for purchase.

They also released a limited edition Zendaya doll, based on actress Zendaya Coleman and in a surprisingly inspirational move, they chose the outfit and hairstyle the young Disney star rocked at the Oscars earlier this year which became the subject of controversy when E! ‘Fashion Police’ host Giuliana Rancic claimed Zendaya looked like she “smelled of patchouli oil and weed”. It sparked a LOT of outrage due to the racist insinuations and once again brought the discussion of the subtle ways our society seeks to demean people based on appearance. So props to Mattel for choosing Zendaya’s “patchouli oil” outfit to stick it to the haters!

But there are two specific campaigns that have recently had us engaged in the Barbie debate once again. The first is the ‘Imagine the Possibilities’ video which seems to emphasize the need to allow girls to imagine their own futures without any sort of barriers.

“For over 56 years, Barbie has inspired imaginations and encouraged girls on their journey to self-discovery. From Mermaid to Movie Star, Pet Vet to Police Officer, Fashionista to Fairy Princess, Barbie continues to celebrate the belief that You Can Be Anything,” says a description about the video, which we have to say isn’t the best statement to use. Yes it is important for girls to know they can be any of the aforementioned careers, but having a fictional doll swap careers as a marketing tool to create a new outfit and accessories for Barbie doesn’t exactly equip them in the right way.

However, the video itself is a perfect reflection of the changing societal attitudes about gender stereotypes and the representations thrust upon young girls and boys from a young age. Female-driven websites like Popsugar and Bustle praise the new video commenting on how adorable it is seeing a group of young girls as lecturers, scientists, soccer coaches and museum tour guides. Our question is: is a mere reflection of the cultural shift good enough? Or should a dominant toy brand like Barbie do better to lead the way? Although there are many more empowering toy options entering the toy market every day, the fact is Barbie is still a leader which means her influence remains key.

The second video that has caused a stir recently is the Moschino Barbie video. It is the first first we have seen a Barbie commercial feature a young boy also playing with the famous doll. Many media sites hailed the move as progressive, saying Mattel is finally letting go of gender bias, but there was more than meets the eye on this one.

First, let’s point out that the dolls are being touted for their external qualities once again. Second, this technically wasn’t a Barbie campaign, so to speak. The video features two young girls a boy playing with the Moschino Barbies, but as the BBC reports, this was actually created for the fashion brand. The Moschino Barbie video was actually a “fauxmercial” and has nothing to do with eliminating gender norms.

“This video parodies iconic Barbie commercials from the 1980’s starring a young [Moschino creative director] Jeremy Scott look alike. The video celebrates how boys and girls alike play with Barbie – it’s all about self-expression, fashion, imagination and storytelling,” said a statement about the appearance of the young boy. While they still want to emphasize that Barbie can be a boys toy too, the fact that this aspect was portrayed in a “faux” way doesn’t exactly hit home for us.


Jeremy Scott himself was the one who was in charge of creating the video, not Mattel.

“When I dreamt up the concept for the Moschino Barbie fauxmercial, I felt it was natural to have a little boy representing for all the little boys like myself who played with Barbies growing up,” he wrote. “Barbie was more than a toy, she was a muse for me,” he said.

The Italian clothing brand announced its partnership with Barbie back in October, and since its release on November 9, the Moschino Barbie doll sold out in a day.

It certainly gives a healthy nod to the trend of eliminating gender restrictions for toys that have previously only been marketed to girls, we just hope there is a continuum of empowering messages from Mattel. We are happy to see such an influential brand want to cater to new tastes, but we hope they will move toward creating innovative and fresh perspectives on gender equality, not just piggy-back off what is already being done.

That being said, for all parents out there, we encourage you to look far and wide when choosing toys for your children. Both girls and boys deserve entertainment that will help them imagine futures devoid of any barriers. As a platform dedicated to bringing inspirational and empowering content, we will continue to discuss issues like this, as well as provide great alternatives and showcase the men and women who are creating them.


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