I went to see the Barbie movie with a girlfriend I’ve known since I was 12 and between us we have 5 sons (no girls).  We never played dolls together and we were only introduced to Barbie when we were adults.  Sindy (girl next door with lots of fashionable outfits) and Tressie (who’s hair grew) were the dolls that young British girls played with in our day.  Of course, we knew lots about Barbie (who wouldn’t with Mattel’s marketing) and had even bought a few Barbies ourselves as gifts, but we approached the movie with open minds.

Both of us were champions of women’s lib in our teenage years and are now resolute feminists – and we were captivated right from the very beginning when Helen Mirren (brilliant casting along with Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling) started to narrate the story.  We were crying with laughter as young girls smashed up their baby dolls and expectations of nurturing motherhood in favour of freedom and independence. 

Barbie is portrayed not only as a fashion-forward and stylish character but also as an intelligent, kind, and fiercely independent individual. This portrayal sends a powerful message, emphasizing that beauty comes in various forms and that intelligence and determination are equally important qualities. The movie also addresses significant themes such as self-discovery, friendship, and embracing one’s true identity – all within an epic adventure into Barbie Land (a cinematic delight) and the real world which perfectly balances fantasy, comedy and emotion.   

Along the way, she forms an unlikely bond with a diverse group of friends, each with unique strengths and personalities, promoting the values of teamwork, friendship, and embracing individual differences.

Barbie was conceived in 1959, by Ruth Handler, who co-founded the doll’s manufacturer Mattel. Barbie’s reputation has been complicated.  On one hand, she has been terrible for girls’ body image – which is openly (and bravely) acknowledged in the movie, but she has empowered, too. Mattel has produced dolls with different skin colours and in different shapes, as well as dolls representing positive female role models (this is a big theme in the movie where Barbies can be lawyers, doctors, physicists, presidents).   We included one of these in our Wonder Women book in the Girl Power section – the story is entitled ‘TO BOLDLY GO WHERE NO BARBIE HAS GONE BEFORE’ about the doll modelled on astronaut Samantha Critoforetti and you can read it below.

The Barbie movie has been a marketing masterclass by Mattel.  It is bravely self-deprecating and clearly acknowledges the negative perceptions surrounding the Barbie brand whilst keeping Barbie relevant to societal changes through the Dream Gap Project,  Imagine the Possibilities ad campaign, and introducing diverse dolls and positive role models. 

Here’s one of those amazing role models!



Samantha Cristoforetti is currently the only active female astronaut in Europe, which is a pretty good claim to fame and makes her a role model for lots of children, but especially young girls.

Unfortunately, unless they are already into space travel, they might not know this.

Fortunately, Cristoforetti now has another claim to fame. Thanks to a partnership between the European Space Agency and toy manufacturer Mattel, she has been made even more famous, as she has been immortalized in a one-off (or to be precise, ‘two-off’) Barbie dolls.

As part of their Dream Gap project and in partnership with the ESA, Mattel created two special Barbie dolls. Each is a likeness of Cristoforetti; one has her wearing a stylized reproduction of NASA’s Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or Spacewalking suit, and the second has her in an ESA blue flight suit.

They were first shown by Mattel Italia at a special event on International Day of the Girl on 11 October 2018, and in 2019 they have been on display at the Women’s Day Gala of Professional Women International in Brussels, the ELLE magazine Power Girl event in Paris and many other events.

They have generated huge amounts of PR on social media, TV and in the press and will be supplemented with a series of videos aimed young girls and their parents. They show Cristoforetti welcoming girls from the UK, Germany, France and Italy into the ESA European Astronaut centre in Germany. The girls shadow her and ask her all about her extraordinary day job.

As Isabel Ferrer, European Director of Marketing for Barbie and clearly one never to miss the opportunity for a pun, said: “We are proud to launch this collaboration with the ESA with a clear goal: to inspire girls to become the next generation of astronauts, engineers and space scientists. We know how important it is for girls to have role models and this new ESA collaboration helps us take this to an astronomical new level.”

Only 15% of active astronauts are female, and no woman has ever landed on the moon, so the partnership fits perfectly with the Barbie Dream Gap Project, which aims to level the playing field for girls and close gaps so they reach their full potential.

It is a similar hope for the ESA, Ersilia Vaudo-Scarpetta, Chief Diversity Officer, said: “While boys and girls generally achieve the same scores in science and maths, few girls dream of becoming scientists, engineers or space professionals. The European Space Agency is strongly engaged in promoting girls’ interest in STEM subjects and space careers in particular, as we need a diversity of talents to imagine and enable the future in space. We are therefore proud to launch ESA’s collaboration with Barbie, highlighting inspiring role models such as astronauts and encouraging girls to believe in themselves, look at the sky and dream high.”

Cristoforetti, who understands the importance of role models, said she hoped the partnership with Barbie “will help young girls and boys to dream about their future without limits.”

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