Barbie has worn many hats in her more than 50 years on toy-store shelves. She started out as Barbie, the Teen-Age Fashion Model in 1959, and since then she’s been a surgeon, an aerobics instructor and a TV chef. Just last week, Mattel released Entrepreneur Barbie, which comes with a smartphone, tablet and briefcase. Giving Barbie more than 150 careers over the years has made the doll a “role model and agent of change for girls,” Mattel says. But in a study released in March, Oregon State University researcher Aurora Sherman found that playing with Barbies might actually limit the number and type of careers girls see for themselves in the future.
Sherman assigned 37 girls ages 4 to 7 to play with a fashion Barbie, a doctor Barbie or Mr. Potato Head. After five minutes of play, she asked them if they could do 10 different occupations when they grew up, and which occupations they thought boys could do. She found that the girls who played with Mr. Potato Head said they could pursue the same number of careers as boys. The girls who played with Barbie — either the fashion doll or the career doll — told Sherman they could do fewer jobs than boys.
It will take more research to determine what it is about Barbie that might affect girls’ views of themselves, Sherman told OPB. We want to hear from you. Do you let your kids play with Barbies? Do you think the dolls will have an impact on their self-image?
- Aurora Sherman: Associate professor of psychology at Oregon State University