Barbie joining LinkedIn may not a good role model for girls

by Aby League | Guest Column Published:

"Girl power" is something the Spice Girls promoted back in the '90s, but we're seeing a wave of female empowerment campaigns gaining popularity today.

Huge international brands are a big part of this. The "Real Beauty Sketches" video by Dove resonated positively with online audiences for showing how women perceive themselves too critically. Another video that went viral was Pantene Philippines' "Labels Against Women," an ad that shows how women are being treated with double-standards in the professional world.

Artists in the music industry are also in on the female empowerment trend. John Legend's recent music video "You & I" is nothing like "Blurred Lines," and Colbie Caillat's "Try" is definitely no "Wrecking Ball." Rather, the two artists follow in the footsteps of brand marketers by featuring confident women to encourage and empower others -- as opposed to objectifying them wearing nothing but heels.

Enter Entrepreneur Barbie. She hit the shelves as part of the toy maker Mattel's "I Can Be" career campaign. It is a campaign aimed, as the company noted, "to encourage girls to also learn about this role." She also just joined the popular professional social network, LinkedIn.

Barbie a good role model for girls?

According to Chapman University, there are two Barbie dolls sold every second. The franchise also makes an estimated $1.3 billion in annual sales. But many argue that Barbie is not the best role model for girls.

There has been much talk about the unrealistic beauty standards set by the doll and recreations of what it would like if it depicted the body size of the average teenage girl. Furthermore, a 2014 study showed how 37 U.S. girls aged 4-7 years played with Barbie for 5 minutes, and they said that boys could do more jobs in the future than they could -- even if they play with the "career-focused, doctor version of the doll." Girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head, on the other hand, responded that they could do about the same number of jobs as boys someday.

Jessica Abrahams of Prospect Magazine thinks that the problem with Entrepreneur Barbie, even as a presidential candidate, doctor, or entrepreneur, is more about how she looks than anything else. She fears that the doll may be encouraging young girls to believe that you have to meet the standard of beauty being set by the doll to achieve much in life.

Entrepreneur Barbie May Offer Some Changes

Some commentators lauded Entrepreneur Barbie as a step in the right direction for Mattel. Jennifer Fleiss, co-founder of Rent the Runway, says that she encourages her to "believe that women can have it all -- a career, a family, and a great wardrobe." Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, also told TechCrunch that these dolls are inspiring "a generation of young women to start running businesses."

Debbie Sterling, founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, another toy company who also markets to young girls, noted that while Barbie may have represented mostly fashion and frivolity in the past, having Mattel promote entrepreneurship and career advancement today is a refreshment.

Will Barbie on LinkedIn have any effect?

Shortly after the new version of Barbie was released, the creators put up a LinkedIn page for it. It showed that Barbie has had 150 different careers, with a pink linked resume to boot.

But Barbie's target demographic is hardly the most active LinkedIn user. The social network will have no direct influence on little girls, given that it is a site for working professionals and two-thirds of its users are over the age of 35. It is most likely a marketing ploy attempting to mimic the success of other girl power marketing campaigns on social media, and for adults to buy a new toy for their daughters, not necessarily to influence girls in a direct way.

Whether Barbie is a good role model for children or not is every parent's decision to make. After all, no doll -- or any toy for that matter -- can be a substitute for parents, who are the ones who should be the instilling any moral values and helping children build their self-esteem. And while we're at it, let's start cutting down their time on gadgets and boosting kids' confidence by limiting Internet use.

Aby League is a qualitative researcher and a passionate writer. She has writen about health, psychology and technology. She has a bachelor's degree in biology and is currently taking her master's while balancing her time as a freelance writer and researcher.

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