Mattel honours 9 athletes with role model Barbie dolls to motivate women in sports

May 23, 2024 | Culture, Life

The iconic Barbie doll, which landed on store shelves for the first time in 1959, is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year by honouring nine athletes with their role model dolls.

Mattel, the American multinational toy manufacturing and entertainment company, announced on May 22 that Barbie will honour world-renowned athletes including Canadian soccer player Christine Sinclair.

Among the other stars are American tennis champion Venus Williams, gymnasts Rebeca Andrade from Brazil and Alexa Moreno from Mexico, French boxer Estelle Mossley, Italian swimmer Federica Pellegrini, Spanish para-triathlete and doctor Susana Rodriguez, and Polish track and field sprinter Ewa Swoboda.

Mattel said the dolls are bringing together all inspiring stories of female atheletes to show the girls that “anything is possible.”

“Knowing that girls involved in team sports are more likely to believe they are smart enough for their dream career, have high opinions on their abilities and competencies, increased leadership aspirations and enjoy higher levels of self-confidence, Barbie is bringing together these inspiring stories that are shaping the future to show girls that anything is possible if you relentlessly pursue your passions,” it said.

Sinclair celebrated her Barbie doll by sharing an image with the plastic miniature on social media. She said it is “truly humbling” to be recognized by Mattel as a Barbie Role Model alongside so many other amazing athletes around the world.

“Barbie’s mission of empowering girls to dream big and chase their goals is something I am very passionate about,” she said. “I hope by partnering with Barbie to shine a light on the journeys of women in sport, young girls will feel inspired to pursue their dreams.”

Mattel previously announced initiatives such as the Barbie Dream Gap Project and said it showcases Barbie’s commitment to levelling the playing field for girls globally.

Krista Berger, senior vice president of Barbie and Global Head of Dolls at Mattel, said the 65th-anniversary celebration is accompanied by “recognizing the impact of sports in fostering self-confidence, ambition, and empowerment among the next generation.

“We are proud to continue fueling the momentum surrounding women in sports by welcoming these nine athletes as our newest role models,” she said. “The sports one-of-a-kind role model dolls serve as an embodiment of our shared values of passion, empowerment and individuality.”

While the Barbie dolls have been wildly popular — with annual sales usually measured in the billions of dollars — the iconic doll has also sparked controversy.

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Most of the criticism around Barbie centres around the dolls’ unachievable body image, cementing unhealthy societal opinions. However, defenders of the doll have argued that the Barbie doll has had significant influence over the decades.

Suzanne de Castell, an education professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, co-authored a paper titled Up-Cycling Barbie: “Bad Feminism” for Mixed-Up Times, said people often “overlook” how different children, not just girls, play with their dolls.

“It’s not clear how astutely Mattel is actually dealing with the current cultural shifts around identity and gender in particular, and it’s not clear whether just changing surface appearances (colours, hair, costumes) changes the basic assumptions around what a ‘woman’ is or should be or should look like,” she said in an email.

Shelly Russell-Mayhew, a professor of counselling psychology at the University of Calgary, told UCalgary News “there’s lots of evidence to suggest that Barbie’s appearance focus can be detrimental to a child’s developing relationship with their body.”

However, she did acknowledge Mattel’s efforts to create a diversity of body types and ethnic backgrounds. But Russell-Mayhew does not see it as negating the troubling aspects of the toy’s influence, according to UCalgary News.

“No matter how much Mattel tries to introduce this inclusivity into the Barbie line, when people hear the word Barbie it’s still the original that comes to mind, the tall, impossibly thin blonde,” she said.