When I was little I hated Barbie dolls. Everything about her looked fake and forced and small to me. And every year I got another one for Christmas from well-meaning but distant grandparents. The dolls usually ended up as one of the hapless serfs in a complex oligarchy my best friend and I created with our toys by the muddy creek that ran through our shared backyard.
But my reality would have been changed forever if I had gotten a Robotics Engineer Barbie that came with Tynker and taught me coding. Every Barbie I ever had matched my skin tone. What would it be like for a child of color to have dolls that looked like them, not just white dolls painted brown? Dolls that were celebrated for being diverse, successful, and intelligent. What does it say about our society that, for the first time, children of color have dolls to play with that look like them and honor STEM?
Kim Culmone, the vice president of Barbie design says, “In the last two years, Mattel has released dolls with more ethnically diverse features and textured hair." Carly Mallenbaum, in an article for USA Today says, "There’s also the muscular new Lara Croft Tomb Raider doll and a Role Models line that includes fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad (the first Muslim-American athlete to wear a hijab while competing), aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart and iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. (Mattel says the Frida Kahlo Corporation approved the design for the latter doll, yet there was backlash about Frida Barbie’s lack of unibrow; Culmone insists it’s there.)”
When people in a position of power realize that women and people of color are being underrepresented in an area and intentionally seek to center on and promote that group, they should be encouraged. Here's the specs from the Barbie website:
"Dream big with Barbie® Robotics Engineer doll! This Barbie® Career of the Year doll comes with a laptop and robot figure to play out all kinds of cool stories. Kids can explore exciting opportunities in the high-tech world and code their own futures!
- Great gadgets include a purple laptop that shows a screenshot of her robotics project — and a silvery robot with arms that move at the shoulder.
- Barbie® has partnered with Tynker, a game-based platform that teaches kids how to code and inspires them to explore STEM opportunities!
- Her versatile workday outfit is designed for success with a trendy graphic t-shirt and denim jacket, accessorized with protective goggles."
(The last bit about being “accessorized with protective goggles” hits a sour note at the end.)
This is the Black Robotics Engineer Barbie doll I needed as a kid. So this Christmas, I am going to give Barbie a chance with the kids on my list. Mattel is listening; I hope they realize how important it is to teach all children to feel empowered and they are being intentional about dismantling the stereotypes that have inhibited people of color and women.
Reality Changing Observations:
Q1. Think about the dolls/figures you had growing up; how could they have been more representative of how you and your community really looked? Secondly, if they all looked like you, did you ever think about it?
Q2. Why do you think it is important for children to have dolls/action figures that look like them and books that they can relate to?
Q3. How can adults be intentional in creating diversity and inclusion in the communities their children are raised in?