Point/Counterpoint: The New Barbie Commercial

Have you see the new Barbie commercial circulating in your news feed? If not, here it is. Take a peek.

When I see videos like this (the "mommy wars" video made by Similac is similar), my first reaction is "ho hum, another cute/inspirational video by a large multinational corporation trying to sell me something." I'll admit to some consumer apathy.

Also - I never played with Barbie. My mom gifted me three of her 1960s Barbie dolls, which mainly sat in a box, to be brought out when other friends came over and wanted to play dolls. Book nerds have little time for dolls.

But I developed a tiny spark of interest in Barbie in university, as I navigated my master's degree in environmental and gender studies. And later, as a mother, I was convinced I did NOT want my daughters playing with Barbie or any other symbol of women's oppression under capitalism and patriarchy. So far, my girls seem to be following in my book nerd path, and don't seem too interested in Barbie (princesses....that's another story. Sigh.)


I have a horrible habit of flip-flopping when it comes to polarizing issues (this is probably why most employers check off "team player" as my top asset - I can understand and empathize with many different points of view.)  So instead of writing this from my own point of view, I decided to reach out to other women and get their thoughts on the video.

Our Team Players:

Lara Wellman is owner of Kids in the Capital and Lara Wellman Digital Marketing, and graciously offered some pro points for this video. 

Faustina Konkal is a Sociology and Women's and Gender Studies student at Carleton University, the mom of three and a life time resident of Ottawa. She's offering our counter points.

And me, Misty Pratt, resident Community Manager of the blog, who is sitting on the fence at the moment!

Imagine the possibilities

Barbie wants young girls to imagine the possibilities, and for Lara Wellman, that's easy enough to do. "My take on [the video] was that they were real life scenarios where kids were doing adult jobs and doing them from a child's perspective," she says. The video is cute and funny, and it's uplifting to see young girls follow a passion or dream.

And really, let's think about the possibilities for a minute - what if girls stopped playing "Ken meets Barbie, Ken marries Barbie, and they live happily ever after," and instead started playing "Barbie grows up and decides she wants to be a veterinarian, so she goes to school and opens her own practice." As we see the shots pass by - professors, veterinarians, coach - we can't help but feel inspired to pass the same message on to our own girls. 

" I GET that there are issues with Barbie," says Lara. "But when I look at how my kids play with them, I see that my son plays with them too, and my daughter enjoys them while also climbing trees and rough housing with her cousins." 

But these inspirational feelings fizzle out with Faustina: " What you have to understand is that the effect of this new message, and the old 'Barbie marries Ken' message, is that they are the same message. Exactly the same. Different packaging, but the same message. And the message is: do what is expected of you. Define yourself by what others think and see of you."

You Can Be Anything

Barbie Be anything

The video ends with the (pink) screenshot and the words "You Can Be Anything," signed Barbie.

"Well, no," argues Faustina, "not everyone can be or do anything. People have different access to resources, privilege, abilities, localities. Structural barriers are real. Discrimination are real. Prejudice is real. And all those things can impede an individual girl's ability to realize her dreams and aspirations."

So if this isn't the message we want our girls to be hearing, what DO we tell them? "Do we stop telling our kids to dream big?" asks Lara.

"Perhaps the solution is to stop telling girls anything," says Faustina. "And just listen to what they have to say. Stop treating them like empty vessels for us to fill up, or like victims in a dangerous world that we need to save."

Buy the Doll

Let's put the cute, the funny and the problematic aside for a moment. Look at the subversive: buy the doll. Boil it down, and this video is nothing more than an advertisement, designed to get me to buy a piece of plastic junk made in China. A bunch of brilliant minds worked on this video, getting paid to sell the brand to parents of young girls.

"Of course they're trying to sell more product while doing it!" says Lara. "That's their job - that's what they HAVE to do...but isn't it nice that they're sharing a positive message with their mega bucks beyond just the ads that have my kids yelling "I WANT THAT!"

Faustina is not so sure: "I think that it is inherently impossible for a large multinational to do [positive] messaging. Which is why I'm wary of ads like this."

Game, Set, Match

There is no winner here today, in terms of whether the new Barbie commercial is GOOD or BAD. What we do have are two opposing points of view, doing exactly what I think we need to do to help foster change for young girls - having a respectful and intelligent debate, and challenging the status quo.

I know we all get a little tired of critical thinking - sometimes I feel like screaming "for the love of God, who cares!?" when yet another critique comes out on a story, issue, or advertisement. I remember feeling the same way in university, when all I wanted was to stop talking about the damn problems and DO SOMETHING.

But it's Friday and I'm feeling philosophical, so let's quote Ghandi:

"Your beliefs become your thoughts, 
Your thoughts become your words, 
Your words become your actions, 
Your actions become your habits, 
Your habits become your values, 
Your values become your destiny"

Doing something is not always realistic, or desirable. Sometimes we need to sit back, explore our beliefs, our thoughts, and our ideas, and change the world...one tiny step at a time.

What do you think of the new Barbie commercial? What are your points/counterpoints?