Growing up, one of my role models was Barbara Millicent Roberts — otherwise known as Barbie. She was my everything. I rented her movies from the video store by my house almost every week and memorized each song on their soundtracks. I played dress-up in her costumes, played her computer games and, of course, had more dolls and outfits than I could count.
Created in 1959 by Ruth Handler, Barbie was a revolution — at the time, other toys marketed to young girls, like baby dolls, forced them into restrictive gender roles. But Barbie’s purpose wasn’t to teach motherhood; instead, her greatest selling point was being grown up and independent. By making a doll that subverted traditional expectations, “Mattel enabled girls to become anything they want.”
Barbie’s resume is miles long: She’s had hundreds of jobs, ranging from ballerina to surgeon to presidential candidate. She’s even been to the moon. But one newer addition to her list of achievements is a YouTube star. Yes, you read that right. The Barbie Vlogs are a thing. The first vlog was uploaded in June 2015, in which Barbie shared 10 things about herself. Since then, she’s posted hundreds of similar vlogs and, as of this year, her channel has almost 11 million subscribers.
We’re all familiar with companies trying (and failing) to connect with younger generations on the internet, but Barbie vlogs are different. LeAnne Hackman, former Senior Director for Global Content Strategy and Activation at Mattel, said she used to run everything past her teenage daughter to make sure that Barbie was talking about things that a real teenager would say. These conversations would explain why Barbie kept up with popular YouTube trends in the channel’s early years, like “Draw My Life” and the “Whisper Challenge.” Her friends and family pop up in videos every once in a while, too — sometimes taking over an entire vlog. Each video ends with Barbie’s signature catchphrase, “PACE,” an acronym for “positive attitude changes everything.”
In her venture into being an online influencer, Barbie’s latest challenge is using her platform for good, and so far it seems like she’s on the right track. Keeping in mind that her target audience is girls as young as 3 years old, the vlogs do a great job of simplifying tough topics, whether it be protecting the planet or discussing racial discrimination. She’s also vocal about a lot of struggles that young kids face, like forgiving someone, understanding your emotions or the “sorry reflex.” But even adults are watching and loving Barbie’s content. There are positive reactions to the vlogs all over Twitter, with people calling her advice therapy and CNN publishing an article on her vlog about racism. This kind of authenticity and accessibility is why Barbie has been called “the only good YouTuber,” and it’s what makes her such a good role model for her viewers.
Just as Barbie has had an extensive career, she’s also met her fair share of criticism over the past 60 years. She has long been denounced for her unrealistic body proportions — doctors even coined the term “Barbie syndrome,” which describes young girls’ desire to have the physical appearance of a Barbie doll. Mattel has also been attacked for Barbie’s materialism — she owns countless cars and has an endless closet — as well as for the toy line’s lack of diversity. To be fair, the company has made plenty of mistakes: the Oreo Barbie or the infamous “don’t eat” pamphlet spring to mind. But in her vlogs, Barbie is so much more than the fashionista she’s known to be; she is a self-taught guitarist, she loves math and science and she’s even been learning how to code her own video game.
As for diversity, Mattel is beginning to make strides. Though people tend to think of Barbie as “vapid and shallow,” the company is determined to change that association. Introduced in 2015, around the same time that the vlogs started, the Barbie Fashionistas line has grown to feature hundreds of dolls of all different skin tones, body types and abilities. It’s this series in particular that makes Barbie the most diverse and inclusive doll line on the market.
The vlogs see a fair share of diversity, too. Brooklyn, introduced in 2021, is a friend of Barbie’s who frequently appears in her videos. For Black History Month, Brooklyn took over the channel to learn about her culture and family history while making a favorite recipe. Another friend of Barbie’s, Renee Chao, is Chinese-American and recently appeared on the channel to teach viewers about Lunar New Year through a game of charades. The channel also has the Role Models series, which honors all kinds of inspirational women like Frida Kahlo, Katherine Johnson and Amelia Earhart. As a brand, Barbie still has a ways to go, but through her YouTube channel, Barbie is returning to what her character was originally supposed to stand for — the limitless potential that all girls have.
Though I loved growing up alongside fairy princess Barbie, who taught me all about kindness and friendship, I find myself wishing I had this more “human” kind of Barbie to look up to as a kid. I wish I could have learned earlier in life that it was okay to feel my feelings, or that I could (quite literally) be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. But just because I’m in my 20s now doesn’t mean that she is no longer relatable to me. While researching Barbie for this article, I came across one vlog titled “How Are You Feeling? Sharing My Honest Thoughts.” In it, Barbie said, “Today I’m having a day where I feel like I am not in control of anything, and I don’t know what to do to fix it.” Haven’t we all had a day like that before at some point? Especially for me, with so many changes on the horizon — preparing to move into a new place, leaving an old job, getting ready to graduate — some days it feels like life is passing by so quickly, and I’m just along for the ride. These changes are exciting, and I’m looking forward to them, but sometimes it all just hits me at once. Hearing other people say that they’re going through similar things has always been so validating for me, and I never would have imagined that Barbie would face these kinds of struggles.
In that same video, Barbie gave me some very simple advice: “Every challenge we go through makes us stronger.” It’s so simple, and yet she’s absolutely right. Barbie is no longer a shallow blonde beauty queen, and she’s more than just a toy. Thinking about young girls growing up with her as a role model makes me happy and hopeful. PACE!
Daily Arts Writer Hannah Carapellotti can be reached at email@example.com.