Everyone has a birthday, but many of us have found clever ways to extend the celebrating. I try to make my birthday become a birth week, and I even managed once to stretch it to a birth fortnight! (Beyond being the name of a popular video game, a fortnite or fortnight means a period of two weeks! Thank you, William Shakespeare!) Barbie is turning 60 years old this year, and her official birthdate is March 9. However, the “old gal” is definitely a tireless party girl, and her celebrating is extending before and beyond the March 9 date. Good for her! And good for Mattel. If there is one thing Barbie has always been great at, it is self-promotion. And if you look at the careers she’s held over the years, the plastic job applicant has definitely enjoyed a head-turning series of promotions. Like Mattel says, in honor of her 60th, “Barbie has always inspired girls to be anything.” Barbie’s careers are a microcosm of just that.
Released for 2019, there is a series of half a dozen Barbie dolls that represent professions that Barbie has held, but still remain glass-ceilinged for real women. Mattel is quick to point out that Barbie’s careers have extended from “astronaut to anchor.” And though a switch from a space explorer to news reader might seem like a demotion — going from witnessing the heavens to becoming part of Eyewitness News — Mattel has a valid point. If Barbie can evolve to mount a presidential campaign, why can’t a real flesh-and-blood woman? Mattel has handpicked these doll careers to encourage young girls and also to supply courage for women who just might be teetering on a career-switching brink.
Back in 1965, Barbie was launched as Miss Astronaut, sounding like she had won a beauty pageant for astrophysicists. It was akin to a “Twilight Zone” episode back then. A woman astronaut? A female able to pilot a rocket ship? A teenage fashion model who just happens to have a degree in astronomy, biology, and aviation engineering! (Okay, I can get behind this third quizzical reaction. Barbie was a teenage fashion model back in the 1960s, so it is rather unusual that she went from earning a driver’s permit to being permitted to drive into space!)
Barbie revisits her astronaut career, now in 2019, and like all of Barbie’s careers, she manages to look wide-eyed, fresh-faced, and capable. Her motto clearly is “Just Do It … But with Plenty of Style, Sass, and Sexiness.” Barbie’s astronaut helmet allows her flaxen hair to be seen and envied. Her spacesuit hides her heavenly body, but her name is emblazoned on her helmet’s collar. I guess it’s to make sure Midge or Ken doesn’t mistakenly grab the glamorous headdress.
Commemorating Barbie’s more than 200 careers is a near impossibility, so Mattel chose Barbie’s careers carefully and significantly. They wanted to shine a focus on the careers that still have an underrepresentation of women in their ranks. The theme of the doll designs is “from then to now,” and the six occupations are: Astronaut, Athlete, Pilot, Firefighter, Candidate, News Anchor.
I like the 2019 Pilot doll a whole lot. Barbie looks very confident and in control in this new incarnation. Back in 1989, Barbie popped up as Pilot Barbie, and she didn’t really inspire confidence in me. I have to admit, I might have whispered an extra prayer or two if I saw that the 1989 Barbie was seated behind the plane’s controls. Barbie’s careers have not always keyed into her rather blank-slate appearance. There are times when Barbie’s arched brow and permanent smile did make her appear rather bubble-headed and vapid. At times, she seemed to mirror the worst “dumb blond” stereotypes: cheerful but clueless.
It’s good that in revisiting her past positions, Mattel has also updated her appearance, posture, facial mannerisms, and overall aura. Barbie doesn’t look 60 in the least, but she doesn’t look 16, either.
Some of Barbie’s careers that are being highlighted no longer seem far-fetched or fantastical for a woman to consider entering. Unlike the trauma that an “anchorwoman” created in the Will Ferrell movie “Anchorman,” the announcement of a woman anchoring a news desk no longer raises an eyebrow, let alone an alarm. We have grown accustomed to women sitting behind the network and cable news desks and reading eloquently from the TelePrompter.
Barbie crashed into the newsroom in 2010 — looking very much like a Fox News reporter. (Megyn Kelly, anyone?) Today’s version has a less vapid and vampy vibe to her. Not a blonde, and not as sleek and slinky, the 2019 News Anchor appears more relatable and real. Surprisingly, Mattel reveals that women are still marginalized in the newsroom. They are underrepresented behind and in front of the cameras. That “talent” position — in front of the cameras — is definitely being eradicated.
Barbie’s careers for 2019 run the gamut of “we’re seeing the advancements in the real world, and we’re thankful for that” to “wow, I don’t know if that will ever be an equal split.” The 2019 Candidate definitely looks like she could be a guest speaker at any college forum or nightly news report. But, then again, the 2004 Candidate version also had a hint of realism coupled with idealism. Running for office since 1992, Barbie has always been there to encourage girls to throw their hats into the political ring. In the real world, the frontrunners for 2020’s presidential election include a number of women. Barbie has been trailblazing for female empowerment for more than 27 years!
My only moment of doubt is with the Barbie Firefighter. Of all Barbie’s careers, this one seems the most dubious. In 1995, a pigtailed Barbie hooked her star to a hook-and-ladder firetruck. It didn’t seem very realistic. Barbie looked like she was there to walk and groom the firehouse Dalmatian. Now 24 years later, the 2019 Firefighter still seems rather iffy when it comes to passing the rigorous physical. Perhaps Barbie is hiding a muscular, toned body beneath her yellow jacket, but I kind of doubt it. Yes, I agree with the Mattel inspirational message aligned with this doll: “Barbie continues to show girls they can be everyday heroes too.” I concur, but I don’t believe I want to see the 2019 Firefighter climbing the ladder to my DreamHouse if it’s ever ablaze.
I think the takeaway from the newly revised Barbie’s career line is that Barbie and her Mattel creative team have never shied away from difficult challenges and unusual experiences. This is an imaginary character who has been committed to being a medical vet and a combat vet, a teacher and a tech, an Olympian and an oceanographer.
No matter her professional pursuit, Barbie has always scored her goal. For that, girls and women everywhere should applaud and laud their vinyl sister-in-arms.