For the longest time, Mattel-produced Barbie dolls are the pinnacles of perfect, consequentially unrealistic female bodies. The doll’s features, including a long neck and very slim waist, may be beautiful but they are also absurd: three years back a mental health website Rehabs.com reveals that should Barbie be real, her extreme proportions would render her walking on all fours and having only half a liver. 2016 became a turning point, as Barbie released three new dolls with body shapes that mirror real women: tall, curvy and petite. Not to mention, 7 skin tones and 24 hairstyles are added to represent different ethnicities. The expansion of Barbie dolls is worth celebrating, as they promote body positivity and self-love for young (and even older) girls. Body positivity doesn’t seem to be the only great thing Mattel wants to encourage, however; this holiday season the company is releasing a kit in hopes of inspiring little girls to learn and be interested in STEM.
There are concerns in regards to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics because disparity exists. Girls are 1/3 less likely than boys to take interest of a pursuit in one of the disciplines, and with the exception of marine and social sciences, boys outnumber girls in technical and scientific fields. Many factors contribute to the lack of engagement in girls, including persistent stereotypes (‘girls aren’t good at math’), implicit biases, and the environment of science and engineering departments in universities. The Barbie STEM Kit, though small, may become an introduction for girls to view STEM not as male-exclusive, but a potential field for career. After all, in reality women in STEM get paid 33% more than in other industries, and studies show gender diversity positively influences workplace performance.
The Barbie STEM Kit includes a set to create a closet, a shoe rack, a washing machine and a greenhouse. Although the limited and domestic range is rather disappointing, some parents have gone out and praised the kit, saying that through a part-storybook, part-instruction manual, their girls are exposed to building things and even botany, chromatography and optical illusions. The kit manages to integrate science into play, showing how engineering and science can be applied in daily life. Who knows, there might be a girl out there right now who is constructing the optical illusion origami dress, or putting the small gear of the spinning closet rack into place, liking what she’s doing and subconsciously considering building things or working with science for a living. That’s the thing about dolls like Barbie: yes, they’re not real and they shouldn’t be taken all too seriously, but they are part of many kids’ lives and they can be used as a way to promote positive things, just like Mattel has done with the STEM kit and more inclusive dolls.
As someone who grew up playing Barbie dolls, I’m happy to see how far they have improved through the years. It would have been nice as a kid to identify with a Barbie doll of my skin type, or played around with a science set. But I’m glad to see these things now, and I’m hoping to see even more inclusive, diverse toys.