Barbie is something of a polarizing toy among today’s parents. Either you love her or hate her, with very little in between. She’s accused of giving young girls a false image of the female body, while simultaneously credited with helping those girls think big and be whatever they dream of. Barbie’s latest commercial reminds us that more often than not, the dolls can help children imagine their future. And the possibilities are only limited by their imaginations.
The commercial has been viewed on YouTube more than seven million times, with the comments largely praising Mattel for it’s empowering message. The ad features little girls stepping into various professions, to the surprise of unsuspecting adults. Watch the video and be ready to smile at the punchline:
All along, the little girls were playing Barbie in their bedroom, imagining themselves in their dream profession. “When a girl plays with Barbie, she imagines everything she can become.” What an empowering message. The adults laughing rubbed me the wrong way at first, but once I figured out they weren’t expecting a child in place of each occupation’s expected adult, I understood. It might look silly for a child to coach a men’s soccer team or chat on the phone about the details of a recent business trip, but that’s the point. It is cute and silly for now, but with these seeds planted early in life, a girl has the ability to imagine herself as anything in the world. And that is what makes Barbie so great.
I’ve witnessed firsthand how Barbie can inform a child’s play and it makes it hard for me to grasp the complaints of her detractors. My daughter sets up a classroom and Barbie is the teacher. She throws a party and Barbie is the gracious hostess. She sets up a pediatrician’s office and Barbie is the doctor, a job my daughter’s insisted she wants since toddler-hood. For her recent birthday party, we gave her friends fake glasses as favors because she wanted them all to pretend to be scientists — yet another scenario I’ve seen her play out with Barbies. I’ve never once heard her compare her body to Barbie’s or notice anything other than the fact that she can make her be whatever she wants. And by extension, she can imagine herself as whatever she wants. I can’t see a single negative aspect to this arrangement.
While those against Barbie may have a point about her unrealistic appearance giving girls the wrong message, I say her ability to act as catalyst for a child’s imagination far outweighs the potential negatives. Barbie is a woman with a few hundred professions to her name, some traditionally thought of as singularly male. She’s given young girls the ability to play out their dreams for a few generations now, and it’s hard to find another toy that compares. Despite her more controversial aspects, I’ll always let my daughter play with Barbies and this commercial’s only strengthened my appreciation for this iconic toy.