Yesterday, Barbie celebrated International Women’s Day by announcing the launch of a global campaign with a goal of inspiring “the next generation of female leaders…by shining a light on women who are leaders in their in their respective industries of tech, wellness, STEM, education and more with one-of-a-kind Barbie dolls in their likeness.”

Of those being honored with a doll figurine are two Black icons in their respective industries—Shonda Rhimes, prolific television showrunner and Pat McGrath, “the world’s most influential and in-demand makeup artist.”

Senior Vice President and Global Head of Barbie and Dolls for Mattel Lisa McKnight said, “We know that children are inspired by what they see around them, which is why it’s so important for young girls to see themselves reflected in role models who’ve daringly pushed past roadblocks and overcome the Dream Gap to become the brave women they are today…This International Women’s Day, we’re proud to honor 12 global trailblazing women to help empower the next generation of female leaders by sharing their stories.”

Research by NYU’s Cognitive Development Lab funded by Mattel spurred this novel campaign. Findings from their study showed that, “girls aged 5-10 are less likely to raise their hand for leadership positions, such as stepping up to be in charge of a group activity, and also perceive social backlash from volunteering to take on more responsibility.” Interestingly enough, the research also demonstrated that even simply having exposure to female role models caused an uptick in confidence and assertiveness for both girls and boys. 

Mattel coined this his deficiency in confidence levels as “The Dream Gap” which compelled the company to launch the Barbie Dream Gap Project back in 2018, “an ongoing global initiative that gives girls the resources and support they need to continue believing in themselves.” This isn’t Mattel’s first release of influential Black role model Barbies; in past years Mattel has also released Ida B. Wells and Naomi Osaka dolls.

Shonda Rhimes offered up her standpoint on this watershed moment, stating “The idea that there are dolls out there that can look like you and feel like you and give you the ability to imagine yourself in a different world, in a different way, in a way that maybe you only secretly dreamed, or thought was impossible in real life, I think that is incredibly important…As a storyteller, I think everything begins with your imagination. The way that you begin to imagine yourself really does start the story of who you are as a person…It’s obvious to me that you cannot be what you cannot see…And if you don’t see anybody who looks like you, who seems like you, who does anything like you, then you start to believe that you can’t do it either….When young children feel afraid to take on leadership positions, it’s okay to acknowledge the fact that you’re afraid and it’s okay to be afraid to do something…What makes it important is that you try to do it anyway…Being a leader is never easy. It’s never going be easy no matter how old you get, no matter where you go in life…If you can start being a leader now, even when it feels hard, you can be a leader for the rest of your life,” the Grio reports. 

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