Barbie, the plastic blue-eyed and blonde bombshell created by the late fuchsia fanatic Ruth Handler, has come a long way since her introduction in 1959. Most notably, Barbie has strutted out of the Dream House to win a bid for the White House seven times—first in 1992 in her classic form, and later as different ethnicities, officially making Mattel’s Malibu starlet the only woman to claim the Oval Office as her own in American history.
The 2020 presidential campaign is no exception to the brand’s history of encouraging girls that they can and should be involved in every level of our nation’s electoral process, from the polls to the podium, no matter their race or size. Mattel has introduced a new career set featuring a Black presidential candidate, an Asian campaign manager, a curvy white campaign fundraiser and a petite brunette voter.
The diverse all-female ticket, created in partnership with Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan nonprofit She Should Run, which fosters girls’ leadership ambitions and provides guidance to women considering a run for office, is the first-of-its-kind—in Barbie’s world and ours.
“With less than a third of elected leaders in the U.S. being women, and Black women being even less represented in these positions, we designed the Barbie Campaign Team with a diverse set of dolls to show all girls they can raise their voices. Our goal is to remove barriers to leadership by giving girls the tools to imagine and play out their future roles,” said Lisa McKnight, svp and global head of Barbie and dolls at Mattel, in a statement.
Although Barbie has long been a subject of controversy for her anatomically impossible figure, Eurocentric features and a lifelong devotion to her male counterpart Ken, she has also inspired girls to explore their limitless professional potential. Barbie’s gigs in 1960 alone included fashion designer, flight attendant, nurse and ballerina. By 1965, she had already climbed the corporate ladder into space, breaking ground in the STEM fields as an astronaut.
Not everyone is pleased with Barbie’s new dream team, however, as President Donald Trump’s son reacted one of the new dolls with snark:
In response, Mattel told The Los Angeles Times that Barbie has never had any political affiliation.
McKnight explained to Adweek that every year, the brand seeks to shine a light on aspirational professions in industries and sectors where women are underrepresented, in addition to roles that are culturally relevant and timely.
“We chose to make the political candidate Black because there are fewer Black female elected officials, and less Black women exploring a path to political leadership,” McKnight said. “Of the 127 women serving in the 116th Congress, 22 are Black.”
Can a doll really pique girls’ interest in effecting political change and making an impact in their communities? According to the results of a She Should Run survey, 66% of adult respondents observed an increased perception in leadership potential in children who role play.
“We hope to fill the pipeline of leaders by showing girls they can be leaders in their classroom, boardroom and country,” McKnight added.
Mattel has had an ongoing relationship with She Should Run since their first collaboration in 2016 with the groundbreaking President and Vice President Barbie set. The toy manufacturer has consistently worked with the organization to develop materials and programs to encourage a pathway to political leadership.
In 2018, Mattel launched the Barbie Dream Gap Project to dismantle young girls’ self-limiting beliefs that they are not as capable as boys. She Should Run was among the beneficiaries of a related GoFundMe donor drive.