When the first Barbie doll emerged on the world stage in 1959, the most common careers for educated women were nurse, teacher or secretary. But Barbie never let anything – even an unrealistic hourglass figure – hold her back. She became an astronaut in 1965, four years before Americans landed on the moon. Now, the pinkish doll is going green. Her 2022 incarnation boasts four new career choices: chief sustainability officer, conservation scientist, renewable energy engineer and environmental advocate. And, coinciding with World Chimpanzee Day on July 14, the new doll honors conservation hero Dr. Jane Goodall.
Jane Goodall and Barbie
Jane Goodall is famous for her work with wild chimpanzees in Tanzania. In 1977, the Jane Goodall Institute formed to further understand and protect chimpanzees and other apes. Goodall also has a history of being responsive to kids. She founded the Roots and Shoots program in 1991, inspired by local kids in Tanzania who shared their ideas and concerns about the future of the planet with her. So her partnership with a leading toy company is a good fit.
“My entire career, I’ve wanted to help inspire kids to be curious and explore the world around them – just like I did when I first traveled to Tanzania 62 years ago. I’m thrilled to partner with Barbie and encourage young children to learn from their environment and feel a sense that they can make a difference,” said Goodall in a press release. “Through this partnership, I hope to inspire the next generation of eco-leaders to join me in protecting our planet and remind them they can be anything, anywhere – on the field, in the lab, and at the table.”
The Dr. Jane Goodall Barbie release is timed to coincide with both World Chimpanzee Day and the 62-year anniversary of Goodall’s first trip to the forest of Gombe National Park in Tanzania where she did so much of her work. As for the doll, it comes with a pair of binoculars and a little chimp figurine. This Barbie is the latest in Mattel’s Inspiring Women Series. The series pays tribute to influential women in various fields, including Ida B. Wells, Maya Angelou, Billie Jean King and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Barbie’s career history
The original Barbie, released in March of 1959, wasn’t terribly career-minded. She wore a black and white striped bathing suit and was the first mass-produced toy doll in the U.S. to look like a woman rather than a girl. Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel, came up with the idea and realized little kids liked to imagine the future. The doll let them act out scenarios about what they’d like to do when they grew up.
Handler modeled the adult-looking doll after Bild Lilli, a sexy German doll popular with men as a gag gift. Mattel then bought the rights to the German doll, as the canny Handler recognized the appeal to little girls dreaming of being grown up and glamorous.
While the doll retained her buxom bust, tiny waist and long legs, she soon wanted more from life than a swimsuit, pouty red lips and blue eyeshadow. So she became a career woman. Her 200+ jobs over the years have included a paratrooper (2000), UNICEF ambassador (1989), paleontologist (1996), guest editor of an international fashion magazine (1965), rapper (1992), chicken farmer (2019) and a noodle bar worker (2020). Her jobs generally come with props, such as flashcards and a Spanish quiz for Spanish Teacher Barbie, or a lifeguard chair, life preserver and dolphin for Lifeguard Barbie. She’s been getting more and more into the STEM field since around 2010.
Barbie’s new environmental careers
The new careers that accompany the Goodall doll come with job descriptions. Kids will learn that, for example, “A Chief Sustainability Officer works with a company or organization to make sure their actions and products are economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. They also help plan and implement sustainability strategies that include helping a company reduce its environmental impact and developing product that solve problems affecting the planet.”
Renewable Energy Engineer Barbie “supports the use of sustainable forms of energy such as solar power, wind, geothermal or hydroelectric energy. They research ways to reduce the use of fossil fuels and improve energy access by designing machines that generate and distribute renewable sources.”
Personally, I think Environmental Advocate Barbie, who “takes creative action to solve environmental problems in their community and around the world,” presents the best opportunities for dynamic storylines.
“Kids need more role models like Dr. Jane Goodall, because imagining they can be anything is just the beginning – seeing it makes all the difference,” said Lisa McKnight, executive vice president and global head of Barbie and dolls, Mattel, in a press statement. “We hope that this collection and homage to a groundbreaking pioneer for women in science and conservation inspires kids to learn more about green careers, how they can protect the planet, and act out sustainable stories through doll play.”
The new careers are a nice idea but sound a little high-level to me. As kids, my sisters and I enjoyed hurling Barbie headfirst into the bathtub, which we called High Dive Barbie. Not having reproduced, I asked some of my Facebook friends who are parents whether they thought kids will really focus on the sustainable career aspect of the new dolls.
“It sounds like a marketing concept strictly to capture a new market of parents,” said Kate Sanderson Holly. “It will not change how the dolls are played with at all. They will still have their hair chopped off, sharpie on their face and diving contests.” Another Facebook friend said that her grown daughter, now an engineer, appreciated Barbie and Bratz for cute clothes and pink cars. Of course, there may be outliers who use their dolls to construct windmills or install solar panels.
By now you might be asking yourself: if Barbie is a chief sustainability officer, how can she be, well, plastic? Is she a hypocrite? No, she’s not. In keeping with Mattel’s goal of using 100% recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastic materials in all products and packaging by 2030, the new Barbie is certified CarbonNeutral and made from recycled ocean-bound plastic. To achieve the certification, Mattel bought carbon offsets from the Ghana Community Reforestation, Mississippi Valley Reforestation and Australia Native Forest Restoration projects. According to the press release, “Doll plastic parts made from 90% plastic sourced within 50 km of waterways in areas lacking formal waste collection systems.” Doll head, hair, shoes, tablet and beach lantern accessory excluded. Way to go, Barbie!
Images via Jane Goodall Institute and Mattel