I had mostly Sindys in my 80s childhood, but I did have one Barbie. I didn’t play with her much, really. She was blonde (I’m dark), tall (nope) and had a tropical tan (I’m not quite Ed Sheeran, but it takes a while to coax my skin to a beige tint). My younger sister had a few Barbies too, in the 90s; they all came with glamorous frocks and backstories of the rich and famous. I couldn’t identify with any of that, so mine mainly stayed in the cupboard, coming out occasionally to be an extra in one of my Sindy scenes.
I haven’t followed the evolution of Barbie into the first decades of the 21st century, especially as my sons’ tastes run more to Lego and Thomas the Tank. I’ve had a look at the website, though, and while it’s still a riot of cerise and glamour, there is also an I Can Be range. It seems Mattel have been releasing Barbies in various careers since her incarnations as a beauty queen or Dynasty starlet in the 80s: Barbie Scientist, Barbie Pilot, Barbie Doctor. Excellent – there would have been far more chance of me playing with Barbie Teacher, even if she is still blonde, tanned and leggy.
But this week, there was some news from Mattel that amazed me, and prompted my delve into a world of dolls that I had always thought was stuck in the 1950s when it was conceived. In honour of International Women’s Day, they are releasing 14 brand new Modern Day Role Model dolls, as part of their “Shero” range. These are some of my favourites:
Bindi Irwin, Conservationist, Australia – International award-winning wildlife conservationist and celebrity who inherited her father Steve’s passion for wildlife and is dedicated to inspiring the next generation to make a difference in the world
Nicola Adams, Boxing Champion, UK – Two-time gold medalist who is Great Britain’s most successful female boxer of all time and is the only female boxer in the history of the sport to have held all four amateur titles
Patty Jenkins, Filmmaker, USA – The first woman in history to helm a film with a budget in excess of 100 million dollars for WONDER WOMAN, which broke the record for Biggest Grossing Live-Action Film Directed by a Woman – domestic and worldwide
Hélène Darroze, World-Renowned Chef, France – Inspirational fourth-generation French chef with three restaurants and two Michelin stars
Sara Gama, Soccer Player, Italy – Captain of Juventus and Italian national soccer team, member of the Federal Board and President of Commission for the development of women’s soccer
The rest of the lineup are from an equally brilliant, broad range of backgrounds: Chloe Kim, Snowboarding Champion, USA; Çağla Kubat, Windsurfer, Turkey; Hui Ruoqi, Volleyball Champion, China; Leyla Piedayesh, Designer and Entrepreneur, Germany; Lorena Ochoa, Professional Golfer, Mexico; Martyna Wojciechowska, Journalist, Poland; Xiaotong Guan, Actress and Philanthropist, China; Yuan Tan, Prima Ballerina, China; and Vicky Martin Berrocal, Entrepreneur and Fashion Designer, Spain.
This new range delights me and gives me an enormous sense of hope and excitement for the future. Our generation of girls – raised with a fraction of the toy choices and exposure to role models that children have today – has been part of a revolution of change, tolerance and greater equality in a shorter time than any other change has happened for our foremothers. The world holds far more opportunities for little girls than it did 30 years ago, and most importantly, the encouragement to achieve them. What will our children’s generation be able to achieve for society, with this sort of role model sitting right there in their toy box, ready to inspire them?
I had no idea that Barbie had made it her business to show girls they can be anything, but it’s great to hear. There are far more role models – good and bad – around children now than there ever were when I was little, and the more examples of what you can achieve, with the passion and drive that all of these women self-evidently possess, the better.
What an amazing generation of women we have on the way.