Barbie: Empowering Icon or Unrealistic Influence?

Barbie: Empowering Icon or Unrealistic Influence?
Photo by Elena Mishlanova / Unsplash

Barbie was introduced to the world on March 9, 1959, by the American toy company Mattel, Inc. She was created by Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel, who was inspired to design a fashion doll for children after observing her daughter, Barbara, playing with paper dolls and imagining different adult roles for them.

Barbie has been around for a long time. But what impact has Barbie had and what influence does she still offer or impart in our society? The new movie by Greta Girwig has grossed over $1 billion and sparked numerous debates around the world and also across our dinner table.

We discussed how the film itself has caused controversy but we all thought it was a worthy film that got straight to the point with raising the issues of 'how it's impossible to be a woman'! There was also little tolerance for all the one star reviews being written by men - who quite frankly, are an example of why many women still feel as they do today.

In summary, in our family, the dolls and films were fully loved and appreciated in childhood years. It was fantasy, an escape from the real world and an opportunity to imagine a world where Barbie could be anything she wanted to be. She sparked the imagination and everything seemed possible. On the flip side, when I was growing up and through the years I bought dolls for my children, she used to only represent a minority of women in terms of looks and body shape.

Or maybe, I actually never looked beyond the stereotypical Barbie dolls in the shops due to my own unconscious bias when buying them!  

That has all changed looking at the breadth of dolls available to buy now. So many...! The cynical would say this is a money making scheme while those who embrace the idea that Barbie can be informative play, say it is a welcome bid for diversity.

Barbie is still a firm favourite even now that my children are adults. Everyone agreed they were glad to have had the opportunity to play with a Barbie (or Sindy, as I had).

Dad was glad he had 'Action Man' and reminisced about a specialist shop they used to go to when they went on their holidays to Cornwall. We glossed over that and carried on talking about Barbie!

Back to the new film. It demonstrates various perspectives, not just the feminist one and this was refreshing. Everyone has feelings and emotions and as I've learned in coaching, we should respect them, listen and give space for people to explore them without judgement.

So how can all this debate about Barbie help the cause for equality, diversity and inclusion? Is Barbie actually helping the world to see that women have an equal part to play in society and need to be recognised and respected for that? Well, the film certainly makes that point and the fact that there is so much conversation and awareness being raised from the film this has to be a positive thing - even those who couldn't stand the dolls (like Maggie) recognises that!

What do you think?

Looking at some of the quotes from previous films as noted by, Barbie has been empowering girls in ways I hadn't really noticed for many years, possibly due to the distraction of all the cost of buying the cars, the houses and the clothes to go with the doll!

Barbie Malibu house
'You never know what you can do unless you try'  - Barbie and the Secret Door 2014
'Magic happens when you believe in yourself'  - Barbie: A Fashion Fairytale 2010
'The power to change the world has been inside you all along' -  Barbie in Princess Power 2015
'There's always a difference you can make' - Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses 2006

So, is her message valid and on point? Is she a great way for those that play with her to feel motivated and be able to dream that they too one day can have everything they want?

Like her or loath her, Barbie is here to stay. Whether Barbie is a good role model depends I think on how one perceives and interprets her impact and then how one shares that with others.

We can all play a crucial role in guiding children's and others perceptions by encouraging critical thinking, emphasising diverse role models, and fostering healthy conversations of the possibilities that women can have the careers and lives they work for.

Joanne and Maggie

“Because Barbie can be anything, women can be anything.” Barbie Movie 2023