What started me on this post was reading about the “release” of the newest edition to the Barbie Inspiring Women Series: Eleanor Roosevelt. I think somewhere back in my 2020-addle-pated brain, I “stored” the release of other dolls in the series such as Maya Angelou.

To paraphrase an old cigarette commercial: Barbie, “you’ve come a long way, baby. To get where you’ve got to today.” (See notes at end of post). I remember my first and only Barbie doll. As a child growing up in Canada in the late 1950s, early 1960s, my conduit to all the “cool, new stuff” in toydom was through an aunt who lived in upstate New York. Back in those days, Canada didn’t automatically “get” American products from cars to food. Imports might be from Britain or the Commonwealth — American goods weren’t always cheap or easily available.

Make a composition of the body of doll 1 (without the swim suit, I remember my Barbie sans clothing most of the time), and meld with the hair of doll 2, and you have a semblance of my Barbie. She arrived sometime between JFK’s inauguration or the building of the Berlin Wall, and JFK’s assignation. I know, I was an odd child that such things demarcate my childhood years; my mother maintained that when a radio report (we didn’t have tv yet) told of the tensions between East and West Berlin culminating in the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, I said, “Is there going to be a war?” Perhaps that was some subliminal message I absorbed as a baby (aged 3 months to 2 years) in Germany where my father was stationed with the Canadian Army? But, I digress.

 

Image for from Mattel

Image for from Mattel

It’s a far leap from my ridged, impossibly proportioned doll, to Eleanor and her sisters (many of who are listed as “curvy.”) I find it fascinating that these inspiring women, although listed for ages 6+, are also, according to the Mattel website, for “adult collectors.” Some come with stands; others are listed as “not able to stand alone.” Each is presented in a series of slides; the first is with a relevant background. The others might highlight certain aspects of the dolls — footwear appears very important, show the dolls in their “packaging” or “posed” differently within their thematic backgrounds.

Which brings me back to Eleanor. She is being “released” to honour International Women’s Day 2021 (although you need to pre-order her — she won’t be available until March 22). I do wonder what she would think of this particular “commemoration” of her?

Images and accompanying text are cut and paste direct from the Mattel Barbie website. The dolls are presented in the same order as on the site. This is by no means advocating for or endorsing these dolls or Mattel. Just another quirky thing about women’s history that came to my attention!

Image for Eleanor Roosevelt Barbie Inspiring Women Doll from Mattel

Barbie® honors longest-serving First Lady of the United States, UN Spokesperson and human rights activist Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. A champion of policies around civil and economic rights, her passionate advocacy was unwavering, even when faced with resistance. Earning the title “First Lady of the World” for her hard work and dedication to humanitarian efforts, Eleanor Roosevelt’s perseverance redefined the role of women in politics and public life. Barbie® celebrates Eleanor Roosevelt and her incredible impact with a fully poseable, collectible Barbie® doll. Created in her likeness and featuring a curvy body, Eleanor Roosevelt Barbie® doll wears a dress with a beautiful Iris print. With displayable packaging, this celebration of Eleanor Roosevelt makes a great gift for Barbie® collectors and kids ages 6 years old and up. Doll cannot stand alone.

Barbie® recognizes all female role models. The Inspiring Women™ Series pays tribute to incredible heroines of their time; courageous women who took risks, changed rules and paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever before.

Image for Barbie Inspiring Women Maya Angelou Doll from Mattel

As a writer, author, activist, and teacher, Dr. Maya Angelou has received numerous awards and accolades including over 50 honorary doctorates, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a National Book Award nomination for her 1970 autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In 1993, she became the first African American and female poet to speak at a U.S. Presidential inauguration. Maya Angelou Barbie® doll is being presented to honor the history and impact of Dr. Maya Angelou’s activism, work and achievements. Sculpted to her likeness and dressed in a head wrap and dress with floral print, Maya Angelou Barbie® doll features a curvy body and articulation for endless posing possibilities. With displayable packaging, this celebration of Dr. Maya Angelou’s extraordinary life and work makes a great gift for Barbie® collectors and kids ages 6 years old and up. Doll cannot stand alone. Colors and decorations may vary.

Image for BARBIE INSPIRING WOMAN ELLA FITZGERALD DOLL from Mattel

A chance opportunity to perform at the famous Apollo Theater catapulted Ella Fitzgerald® into stardom to become one of the most popular and beloved jazz singers in the world. With vocalization and improvisation, Ella learned to use her voice as an instrument, turning singing into an art form. Ella would become the most recorded female in history and earned countless prestigious awards. Throughout her career, Ella lent her voice to people in need and her foundation, The Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, provides aid to children and communities by fostering a love of music and reading. With her incomparable voice and spirit of determination, Ella Fitzgerald® earned the title “First Lady of Song” and the adoration of fans across generations. Celebrate her unmatched talent and remarkable influence with the Inspiring Women™ Series Ella Fitzgerald® Barbie® doll.

Image for BRB INSPRNG WM FLRNC NTGL from Mattel

Florence Nightingale pursued a career in nursing, a vocation she believed was her moral duty. Enrolling as a nursing student in 1850, Florence made it her mission to improve hospital efficiency and standards in patient care. Carrying a lamp during her rounds in the Crimean War, Florence earned the title “The Lady with the Lamp”, providing comfort and compassion to gravely wounded soldiers. Eventually bed-ridden with a chronic illness, Nightingale refused to give up and used her training as a statistician to write books that launched reforms in healthcare. In 1860, she established the Nightingale Training School, continuing to further nursing education while changing the negative attitudes towards women entering the field. Throughout her life, Florence Nightingale continued to use her drive and intelligence to become the pioneer of modern nursing. Celebrate her unwavering determination and lasting impact with the Inspiring Women™ Series Florence Nightingale Barbie® doll.

Image for BRB INSPRNG WM SSN B DL from Mattel

On November 5, 1872 while protesting and leading the charge for women’s voting rights, Susan B. Anthony made a defiant move. She voted in the presidential election and was arrested at her home in Rochester, NY. This bold act, coupled with Susan’s determined spirit, helped pave the way for passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which prevents a woman from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex. Barbie® celebrates Susan’s pioneering efforts and far-reaching impact with the Inspiring Women™ Series Susan B. Anthony Barbie® doll. She is elegant and poised in a floor-length black dress accented with lace at the sleeves and bodice. Details include spectacles and a lace collar fastened with a cameo brooch. Susan B. Anthony Barbie® doll comes in specially designed packaging and features articulation for endless posing possibilities.

Image for BRB INSPRNG WM BJK DL from Mattel

Born in Long Beach, California, Billie Jean King grew up playing tennis and sharpening her skills at local public parks. In 1961, she won her first major championship title, followed by a series of spectacular victories throughout her legendary career. Off the court, Billie Jean King tirelessly championed women’s equality in sports. In 1973, during a globally televised match hailed as the Battle of the Sexes, millions of viewers watched as Billie Jean King defeated a formidable male rival and proved a woman’s place was hers to decide. Billie Jean’s game-changing strides for equality and social justice earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Celebrate her incredible victories and remarkable impact with the Inspiring Women™ Series Billie Jean King Barbie® doll.

Image for BRB INSPRNG WMN DL 1 from Mattel

Rosa Louise Parks worked as a seamstress and dedicated activist leading up to December 1, 1955. When she refused an order to give up her seat to a white passenger and move to the back of the bus, Mrs. Parks’ act of defiance became the catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Rosa Parks’ quiet strength played a notable role in the civil rights movement, but it would still take another nine years and more struggles before the 1964 Civil Rights Act overruled existing segregations laws. Hailed as “the Mother of the Modern Civil Rights Movement,” Rosa Parks earned worldwide recognition and numerous awards including the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal of Honor. Celebrate Rosa Parks and her impact on the civil rights movement with this Inspiring Women™ Series Rosa Parks Barbie® doll.

Image for BRB INSPRNG WMN DL 2 from Mattel

When Sally Ride was growing up in Los Angeles, her parents encouraged her interest in science by giving her a telescope and chemistry set. Sally’s love of learning and science motivated her to study physics in college. While she was finishing her Ph.D., Sally responded to an article in the student newspaper announcing that, for the first time, NASA was recruiting women into the astronaut corps. Out of more than 8,000 applicants, she was one of six women accepted into the program. On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride blasted off aboard space shuttle Challenger to become the first American woman – and the youngest American — to fly in space. Sally’s adventurous nature, quest for discovery, and pioneering accomplishments inspire girls everywhere to boldly reach for the stars. Celebrate Sally Ride and her remarkable achievements with the Inspiring Women™ Series Sally Ride Barbie® doll. Includes doll stand and Certificate of Authenticity.

Born in Kansas in 1897, Amelia Mary Earhart exuded a spirit of adventure even as a young child.  That young adventurous girl later became the first female aviator to ever fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Throughout her career, Amelia courageously challenged the conventions of the times; she broke and set aviation records for women.  She believed her accomplishments would prove men and women could be equal in jobs. In 1937, in what was to be a record-making flight as the first woman to fly solo around the world, Amelia Earhart and her plane vanished without a trace. The Barbie® Inspiring Women™ Amelia Earhartdoll celebrates the ground-breaking achievements, heroism, and long-lasting contribution Amelia made in aviation and for women. Her legacy lives on and inspires others to soar in their own adventures.

Please note: on Amazon, there are other Barbie inspiring women dolls:

  • While growing up in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Katherine Johnson (her name was Coleman as a child) displayed an intense curiosity and an extraordinary knack with numbers
  • In 1953, she joined a pool of women hired by NASA to work as human computers. Katherine calculated the trajectory of NASA’s first American-manned flight into space
  • Her flawless calculations helped the Apollo astronauts land and return safely from their voyage to the moon. Facial sculpt: MOTM Nichelle
  • The Barbie Inspiring Women Katherine Johnson doll celebrates the achievements of a pioneer who broke through barriers of race and gender
  • Like the trajectories she calculated, Katherine’s contributions inspire young people to excel in math and science, and to reach for the stars. Includes doll, doll stand and Certificate of Authenticity

  • Artist, activist, and feminist icon, Frida Kahlo, born in 1907, was and continues to be a symbol of strength, originality, and unwavering passion. ​
  • ​Overcoming numerous obstacles to follow her dream of becoming a fine artist, Frida persevered and gained recognition for her unique style and perspective. ​
  • ​With her vibrant palette and mix of realism and fantasy, she addressed important topics like identity, class, and race, making her voice, and the voices of girls and women alike, heard. ​
  • ​The Barbie Inspiring Women Frida Kahlo doll celebrates the groundbreaking achievements, heroism, and long-lasting contributions Frida made in the art world and for women. ​
  • ​Her extraordinary life and art continue to influence and inspire others to follow their dreams and paint their own realities.​

 

For more on how a cigarette company got mixed up in feminist thought, see, for example: Padmini Baruah MALD F21, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!” or the story of how Virginia Slims tried to ’emancipate’ women through smoking,” Gender Analysis & Women’s Leadership, Tufts. edu.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the themes of feminism and women’s liberation, with the slogan ‘You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby’ were often used in the ads, and often featured anecdotes about women in the early 20th century who were punished for being caught smoking, usually by their husbands or other men, as compared to the time of the ads when more women had equal rights, usually comparing smoking to things like the right to vote. 

From 1969 until 1971 (when cigarette advertising on television became prohibited), television advertising was an important component; the commercials would begin with actors dressed in period costumes re-enacting the early 20th century anecdotes in comedic fashion, followed by a glamorous modern-day model, smoking the product while proudly dressed in the latest fashions, accompanied by “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby”, which in the commercials was an up-tempo, catchy pop-rock jingle.