I’m Sad About The Things My Community Doesn’t Get

Last night I hosted a live chat about Barbie, billed as an extension of and reflection from my time spent thus far on The Barbie Project. For those who are unfamiliar, The Barbie Project is a play experiment that I have been involved with and blogging about since April. The project has created some really fantastic, thoughtful, funny and inspiring posts about how our girls play.

The live chat went great – better than I expected actually – and I was able to email the Barbie Team a list of nine action items we’d like to see them incorporate in their toys moving forward. (I’ll be writing a post on those in a bit.) I don’t have any control over at Mattel so I cannot comment as to whether or not any of our suggestions will be used. But your voices were heard. There is value in that. Thank you to all who participated, it was a fantastic discussion and revealed how complex this multi-faceted doll/brand is. More importantly, it revealed how creative our girls are and how they make their toys their own.

There will always be girls who play with Barbies. I want to make sure that play is as empowered and healthy as it can be and that is why I am doing The Barbie Project. I know girls use Barbies in very creative, adventurous ways and I feel that we shouldn’t count that out. I see a strong interest from Barbie in better understanding empowered play in today’s girls and creating dolls that act like a canvas for their imagination. Why not guide them along the way?


Now I need to clarify a few things with y’all. 

Because as great as the constructive criticism and play ideas were from our discussion, I was left feeling very sad and frustrated.


Melissa is sad.

Melissa is sad.

My very first post for the series began by fully explaining why I was doing this. It would be very important for you to read that now, if you have not yet done so.

Especially those out there calling my integrity into question.

It would be equally important to remember, my participation in The Barbie Project was not for our PPBB community. My posts were not intended for you guys. I’m thrilled if you read them, thank you. Several folks contacted me to say my Barbie Project posts were very helpful to them and helped them think more creatively about their child’s play. I was pleased to hear it as that was my goal.

Those posts were for ‘pinkified parents’. My posts were for people who normally do not think critically about media messages or use media literacy with their children. I wanted those parents to have better ideas for empowered and intelligent play with their girls. I also wrote the posts for people assume Barbie play is all fashion shows, proms, and weddings. Many times, it is far from it.

I put my reputation on the line to accomplish bringing our messages into Barbie’s spaces – of ten million people. And I’m really sad there are so many people out there in my community who don’t get that.

There is value in spreading the message. I don’t need to continue to preach to the choir. You all get it and know how the song goes. That is why I’m usually so proud of you. But please see that I need to go out onto the sidewalk and ask new folks to come on in and sing with us.

Be certain on the fact that I absolutely wanted the opportunity to insert my voice into the Barbie community, and win over those parents and have them start following my work. I also want my voice at the table at Barbie Headquarters. I’m sure you see the value in that. I’m confident you understand the power in meeting people where they are at and meeting companies in the middle.

Everything I have said in this months-long Barbie conversation is true to who I am and what I stand for: girl-centric characters in play, adventure, taking up space, girls exploring the world, girls in leadership positions, building and STEM during play, empowered/intelligent play, not shaming girls for being feminine or pretty, focusing on what a girl can do vs what she looks like, using critical thinking around toys/media. I feel very confident in that I have not gone off course. I’m very proud of the posts Amelia and I put up for the Barbie Project.

In a time when so many toy lines remove the girl characters, I like that Barbie offers career and adventure options that no one else has. In an afternoon Amelia’s dolls can be President, a doctor, a mom, an astronaut, a marine biologist, a jeep-driving safari hunter, a glamorous woman in a ball gown, a group of friends heading off on a road trip in their camper, a teen in sneakers roasting marshmallows under the open, starry sky. Girl characters are at the center of it. They are the essence of it. Shop online if the big box retailers don’t carry what you want, and then contact those retailers and explain that to them. I don’t see Barbie as the hill I want to die on when it comes to my daughter. That doesn’t mean we don’t talk about the bumps along the way like body image, a dress that is a bit too skimpy, skin colors, hair textures, pointy feet, the pink, etc. We talk about all of it.

Those conversations go right to the Barbie Team. I don’t have any way to measure how much influence we have over there or not, but I can assure you I am using every opportunity available to me to exercise my influence. Find value in that, regardless of how you feel about the toy.

And recognize, the Barbie Team is listening to this community. That is something I hear demanded of them frequently, yet when Lori Pantel, VP of Global Brand Marketing for Barbie, granted me her only interview following the computer programming book fall-out our community largely ignored that conversation. I was embarrassed. I was extremely disappointed in that failure to recognize the significance of that for our community and what statement Barbie made by making that move.

I am sometimes left wondering what exactly it is people want, beyond a platform to complain. I prefer engagement and acting as a change agent.


Okay, now. I’d like you all to remember that behind these words on the screen your looking at sits a person. A person trying to educate parents, create social change, make a witty comment or two, and provide for her family.

I’ve spent every morning for the past five and half years showing up – for you. For all of you. I spend hours vetting, curating, and moderating our community….more hours blogging…..months writing a book and now traveling and speaking to groups to spread our message.

Melissa is happy it is morning and she says 'Let's go see what the PPBBers are doing today!'

Melissa is happy it is morning and she says ‘Let’s go see what the PPBBers are doing today!’

In regards to my working as a consultant to media content creators, I want to say three things:

  1. You cannot see what I’m doing behind the scenes nor hear what I’m saying in private conversations I’m having with the powers that be. I cannot share those with you, per binding legal contracts.
  2. I get paid for the work I do. My skills and expertise come at a price, and I hold no shame in knowing my worth. You don’t work for free and neither do I.
  3. The media content creators I have been working with are fantastic people who are closer to being allies with us than you might first think. Change is slow. That doesn’t mean we aren’t trying.
I want to tell you something the woman who mentors me taught me years ago: Change comes from within. Change is slow, it requires a buy in and that necessitates trust. It takes time to build trust. But the change that comes from this is the most meaningful and lasting.
I want you to know — the trust this community has in me is something I do not take for granted nor take lightly. My time spent doing this work is the only thing I will justify for spending time away from my kids. I cherish this community, as often you all are my only sense of sanity as I try to make sense of all the fuckery out there being marketed to our kids.

We need to work together to make changes for our kids, they deserve a healthy childhood. I need all of you to have faith that every decision I make is guided by that commitment.

I will never ask for you to trust me, because trust has to be earned not requested. You can decide for yourselves whether or not to put your trust in me. What I will do is promise that I will work every day to create meaningful change for our children. Every day I wake up and that is my goal, it is what drives me. I will prove myself to you through my words and actions, so that you know you can count on me to give brands hell when it is called for. You all can also count on me to meet brands in the middle and gain some ground for our kids.
I have poured my heart, soul, blood sweat, tears, and money into this business/book/community. I only get one shot at losing my integrity. There is not a chance I will sell out. Our kids mean too much to me.
Melissa says 'Look, we've got this.'  The important word being 'we' - meaning we need to stick together.

Melissa says ‘Look, we’ve got this.’
The important word being ‘we’ – meaning we need to stick together.

A Conversation With Barbie: Missteps and Moving Forward

Recently toy giant Mattel received heavy criticism for a book that was part of the 2010 launch of the Barbie I Can Be….A Computer Engineer career doll. As the internet found out this week, much to our surprise, in the book Barbie actually does zero computer engineering. In fact, as the story plays out we see Barbie framed as rather incompetent when it comes to tech. To make matters worse, Barbie calls on two male friends to come and save the day. The fact that the book was written by a female computer engineer makes the situation all the more incredulous.

Things went really wrong with this book, and Mattel did a good job of owning it with this statement posted to their facebook page:

“The Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer book was published in 2010. Since that time we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girl’s imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.” 

Barbie is a lot of things to a lot of people. She’s polarizing and inspiring. She’s a glamorous beauty and she’s a ground breaking career girl. She’s also in the the homes of millions of little girls.

While the internet has done an amazing job of responding to and re-framing  this misstep by the brand I was interested in a deeper conversation. I think the problems were well covered by others so I wanted to focus on a few key points:

  • Do they understand the issues facing girls who want to pursue STEM interests and careers? Do they understand how this book fed into those issues as opposed to fighting them in an empowering way for girls?
  • How did this book get past the review process and make it to print? Where were the checks and balances?
  • Moving forward, how will Mattel work to stay aware of girls’ issues and reflect that knowledge through truly empowering toys and media for young consumers?

This brings us to the perfect time for me to issue the disclaimer that despite being a frequent critic of the brand, I was invited to participate in a play experiment called The Barbie Project. It was a role I accepted, have enjoyed with my daughter, and a role I used to get my questions answered by Barbie’s Lori Pantel Vice President, Global Brand Marketing. There are a lot of moving pieces to such a large brand like Barbie, and each of those pieces is a human being. When we peel back the layers and open a conversation with each of those people in a way that moves the issue forward, we move closer towards the goal of creating meaningful change for our kids.

My interview with Barbie’s Lori Pantel Vice President, Global Brand Marketing:

1. The first question on everyone’s mind is, how did this get past the review process at Mattel and become published? Each time there is a media whirlwind around an offending product that is the one question I see over and over again. We know Barbie is aware of the issues surrounding girls and STEM, but this book does not reflect that. Can you help us backtrack and understand the process for developing a product like this book? And what are the checks and balances? 

When we first learned of this earlier in the week, to be honest, we were horrified & disappointed because this doesn’t reflect our vision for the brand.  We believe that girls can do anything and be anything.  And as a Mom myself, I take this vision very seriously.

To better answer the “How did this happen”? We spent the early part of the week digging in to the how & why because: 1. We wanted to identify where our process of checks and balances broke down.  2. To ensure it never happens again.

Our publishing process has changed since this book was first released in 2010.  

In 2010 our process for content publishing was that we worked with licensed partners around the world and they were given “story starters” and plot themes.  Those themes were then given to independent writers to create age appropriate books for young readers.  While most of the Barbie books do a good job of reflecting the brand values and positioning, we run the risk of misinterpretation and ultimately loss of quality control.  Clearly, we do not want this to ever happen again. Over the past year we have changed the strategy. Today, instead of asking others to interpret our brand, we now concept, write, and approve all stories for publishing here at Mattel. 

In light of this week’s learnings, we have started to audit all of our current publishing content that is available now in the marketplace.


2. I’ve been a critic of Barbie in the past, and even during my time on The Barbie Project I’ve talked about the dual nature of the doll as I see both positive and negative aspects. Clearly, I’m not a fan of this book. Has it been pulled?

The short answer is yes, the book has been pulled by Random House. The minute we learned of this title and read the content, we immediately partnered with Random House to pull the book from the market.   


3. So, as my daughter says, you are ‘Barbie’s Boss’, which is her understanding of your role at Mattel. For the little girls out there who want to be the boss some day, what would you tell them about being the boss when a fumble like this happens at work and how do you show your team good leadership?

That’s very sweet, but I actually don’t think of myself as “Barbie’s Boss.”  I believe that part of good leadership is taking responsibility – facing the challenge head on and using it as a learning moment. I would tell your daughter that we are all human. And at times will make mistakes – but what is most important is how we learn and grow from them. 


4. There are a lot of moving pieces to a large brand, and those pieces are people who are a part of our culture. This book wasn’t too far off from what real girls and women experience in everyday culture. I can see how creators might overlook things they were never taught to question. What I see as I travel and speak to groups is that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’ So, now that Barbie knows better how will Barbie do better in the future?

Over the past few years the brand has partnered with 3rd party experts as it relates to our Career of the Year programs. Whether NASA for "Barbie as Astronaut" or a diverse group of entrepreneurs this past summer for the launch of Entrepreneur Barbie. The brand engages in these partnerships to ensure authenticity in both the doll design and program content. We will continue to explore these types of partnerships when exploring new areas for the brand.

We believe that Barbie unlocks a girl’s imagination. And that through open-ended play, Barbie invites girls to explore the world around them. We know it is critically important to not only listen to girls but also to listen to and learn from parents. That’s what we are doing now and will continue to do going forward.


I really appreciate Lori Pantel taking the time to answer these questions. Authentic communication with brands is a best first step in bringing about the changes we would like to see. As I continue to fill my role on The Barbie Project I will use every opportunity to encourage the brand to continue to move in the direction of empowered, diverse play for girls. Here is what I would hope to see the brand take away from this week of negative press and use it as a learning experience and catalyst for change:

  • Rewrite and publish the computer programming book. Just reboot the project and get it done right. Engage with women from STEM fields or groups who teach girls to code. Best yet: Have the girls in these coding/engineering groups team with Mattel to write a new version of the book they know will inspire little girls.
  • Reach out to advocates and experts who work to empower girls. Use our knowledge and consultations to guide decisions during the creative and development process.
  • Truly commit to showing girls all of Barbie’s careers are within reach through interactive web pages and product packing. Highlight women in those careers, much like the Barbie I Can Be…..An Entrepreneur site does. Then replace the two craft projects with a road map to developing a working business plan and a template for business cards. The Barbie Computer Engineer could come with an app where girls can get code from the inside of the doll’s package they input into the app to design the robot puppy they saw Barbie bring to life in the code *she successfully wrote and programmed* in the new book.
  • Pledge to keep Barbie as the protagonist in all of her stories. Let girls see her doing the problem solving, going on the adventures, and saving the day. Introduce new friends along the way, but keep Barbie in a position of power and leadership.


And what, dear reader, should your take away be? Let’s remember this is one conversation in what needs to be an ongoing conversation. As you read, think about how you want that conversation shaped, who you want heard, and how best to deliver your messages.

Computer Engineer Barbie

Computer Engineer Barbie

If You Give A Girl A Puzzle

Let’s Put The Pieces Together

When the currently popular and substantially profitable “girl empowerment marketing ” becomes a story of saving girls from their mindless, idle feminine selves, we need to take a step back and consider how well we really understand today’s girls and what goes on in their hearts and minds. Let us compare and contrast two ads that came out this week, both offering very different messages about girls and STEM.

In one ad, the girl is shown as a natural-born scientist who uses inspiration from the world around her to bring her ideas to life.

In the other ad, the girls are shown as mindless robots who need the presence of a savior product in order to be rescued from themselves.

Ignoring for the moment this is an advert for a controversial oil company……Pay attention to the details of the story being told here. Children don’t play with toys the way they are marketed or intended to be played with. Curiosity is innate in the child. A knack for STEM is already inside a girl. A good toy sparks innovation and wonder. A good toy can be many different things, even the least likely of things.

The other viral video from this week is a commercial for a toy company and also has us thinking about girls and STEM, but this one  further divides the girl side of the gendered, segmented children’s toy market into 1) sneaker-wearing, hammer-wielding Tomboy Girls and 2) glammed up, brainwashed one-dimensional Barbie Girls. In the Goldie Blox ad the “sparkly girls”, also sometimes referred to as “tutu girls”, are robotic pink-wearing drones who soak up gender norm and beauty messages without question. These girls and their pink tunnel vision are the problem, until they are saved by Goldie and her hammer.


Girl empowerment? Buyer beware.

Attack the media and marketing that sell girls short, yes. Challenge a generation of parents who fail to think critically about the media and toys they provide their children. But let’s back off the attacks on girls and how they do girlhood.

There is a difference between a girl-centric business using “girl power” as a marketing gimmick and a business centered in authentic girl empowerment. May I suggest we think twice about bashing the intellectual capabilities of girls who play with Barbies, enjoy fashion and glam, or who by genetic lottery fit the beauty norm? None of those things are mutually exclusive to also liking or being good at STEM pursuits.

My Friends, fashion dolls are not the hill you want to die on. While definitely an imperfect toy that require parents to assist with unpacking messages, insisting fashion dolls are the root cause of the Failure of Girls demonstrates a profound lack in understanding how girls really play and think. The Shell ad showcases this beautifully.

From Shell's How Will You Change The World? video

From Shell’s How Will You Change The World? video

Barbie isn’t the enemy. Limitation is. The Goldie Blox spot tried to show this, but the message came off as: Pink sparkle girls who play with Barbies and enjoy glam dress-up are mindless idiots who must be saved from their soulless selves. Girls who play with Barbie are no less capable of innovation, creativity, demonstrating STEM skills, and driving a successful education and professional career years down the road. They can be pretty and feminine while doing it. There are many ways to be a girl.

As a mom said on my facebook page and I have to completely agree based on my own family’s experiences, “The Goldie Blox building sets are frustrating and fall apart as you are building them. There is very little that you can actually do with them. My daughter has had more creative and imaginative play with her *gasp* Barbie dolls.”

This isn’t a debate between Goldie Blox or Barbie, there is room for both on the shelf and both serve a purpose. The Goldie Blox ad is a great ad, as far as advertising goes. Goldie Blox’s newly released zip line set and movie machine set are neat. But for those of us truly invested in girl empowerment, our focus should be on how we are using, depicting, and profiting from girls in marketing. Let’s be mindful of what problems and deficits we are being marketed about our girls versus what we know to be true as we watch them grow day in and day out.

EVERY GIRL has a scientist inside of her. Girls are not the problem, we are. We’ve forgotten how to draw the curiosity out of her, we’ve stopping expecting it from her, and we’ve stopped giving her opportunities to explore it, experiment with it, and expand on it. We’ve listened to what the media wants us to believe about our troubled girls, and bought it hook, line, and sinker.

Girls know better, they are waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

At breakfast these girls were playing Barbie. By lunch they were examining specimens at the Smithsonian. My 5yo niece is instructing my 6yo son on what to do with his QVR code.


If you give a girl a puzzle, she’ll want to solve it.

And she’ll likely want another one. 

When she’s finished, she’ll put on her favorite science goggles. 

Then she’ll call all her friends over and you’ll need puzzles and goggles for them, too. 

After the puzzles, they’ll want to go outside and make a fort. 

When the girls finish getting dirty building the fort they’ll find a toy to take apart and rebuild. 

Of course, when she’s finished she’ll want a science experiment. 

And chances are, if you give her all these STEM opportunities, 

she’ll grow up knowing she was a scientist, engineer, and mathematician all along. 

Let's be very careful with what we presume about our girls, their interests, and abilities.

Let’s be very careful with what we presume about our girls, their interests, and abilities.


Exploring the Smithsonian Qurios lab.

Exploring the Smithsonian Qurios lab.

GIrls are fully capable of being multi-dimenisonal.

GIrls are fully capable of being multi-dimenisonal.

The Barbie Project: All In An Afternoon

I love spying on my kids while they play, the ability to peek into their imaginations is an incredible gift. Their make believe world does not follow the rules of the real one and in this space of pretend they are free to create without limitations or boundaries.

I’m willing to bet most people assume Barbie play is all about “fluff”, like the weddings/princesses/spa day/shopping spree themes we stereotype girls into. What is closer to the truth is far more intriguing, as I’ve seen Amelia and her friends create worlds much richer in story and context. The depth of the characters they assign to their Barbie dolls has been really fascinating to watch.

Amelia’s Barbies came to us as a surfer, Sea World dolphin trainer, SCUBA diver/treasure hunter, pilot, dog trainer, astronaut, nurse, musician, and an entrepreneur. Over these past few months I’ve watched Amelia’s Barbies transform into National Geographic explorers tenting off the side of a cliff, they’ve built a dream house truly representative of my little girl’s dreams, they’ve hunted man-eating lions, they’ve done lots of camping, they’ve hosted galas with the Queen to show off their yield from archaeological expeditions and they’ve even discovered hidden tombs of Egyptian pharaohs.

Amelia is really interested in ancient Egypt right now and was ecstatic over this Cleopatra Barbie I was able to find for her.

Amelia is really interested in ancient Egypt right now and was ecstatic over this Cleopatra Barbie I was able to find for her.

Kids play what they learn, as parents it is our job to provide them with learning opportunities that show them how big the world is that is waiting for them. It can be exhausting to keep up with and feed the wonder of a child’s mind, but that effort is ALWAYS worth it!

Here are some things we do at our house to really enrich Amelia’s play:

1. Provide context — books, videos, museum exhibits, library visits, a local special-interest club, and websites (with parental supervision) can all be used to build knowledge and create a foundation upon which her play will be based.

Example: When Amelia became super interested in being a National Geographic Explorer I took her to hear a NatGeo wildlife correspondent Dr. Mireya Mayor speak at the University of Wisconsin, and later this week we’ll be visiting the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC. We often hear “you can’t be what you can’t see”, so I’m taking the responsibility to show her women who have blazed trails for her!

2. Provide opportunity — Screens off and imaginations on! Set up an atmosphere in the house where imagination is tops and other distractions like a TV are at a minimum. Keeps toys stored where she can easily get them out to engage in play. Sit on the floor with your child as she sets up her toys and offer ideas to help develop the story, building on clues she is giving you. “How about this” and “Let’s pretend that” can be powerful ignition switches for her mind!

Example: A cardboard box is never just a cardboard box when a child is involved. A cardboard box, or several in various sizes, is like a blank canvas. It could be transformed into a camper, a rescue boat, space shuttle, underwater research vessel, mermaid palace made of pearl, a school, a volcano, a restaurant, a restaurant inside a volcano….

3. Change location — She already thinks playing with Barbie is fun….but what if you build a blanket fort first? Or turn the space under the dining room table into her space station/hospital/castle/company world headquarters? What about turning off the lights in the bathroom and turning the (empty) bathtub into a cave? Trust me, the extra mess is completely worth the hours of fun she’ll have!

Example: Maybe your daughter really loves the fairy or princess Barbies. Who says Barbie has to stay inside? Go build a fairy house out in the garden or during a family hike in the woods. Construct a snow palace for her princess Barbies once winter arrives. And winter always arrives, doesn’t it?

4. Art projects — With tools like Pinterest at our fingertips, finding art or learning projects to do at home is a cinch! Amelia and I have used these to make back drops for her play with Barbie, and if I knew how to sew I’m sure we’d find some pretty amazing patterns for various outfits and gowns. If you notice a recurring theme in your daughter’s play, like running a jewelry shop or something, capitalize on that! Together explore jewelry making, sign up for a local artisan class, or study jewelry from a specific culture or time period. Amelia and I have researched jewelry from ancient Egypt quite a bit over the past few months.

Example: At Goodwill this past weekend I found an Egyptian mummy art kit. The steps include casting and wrapping a little plastic body into a mummy and then painting the sarcophagus it will go into. Oh, it just so happens the sarcophagus is the perfect size for a Barbie! I’m hoping Amelia will choose to entomb a few of her dolls as right now she is going through several rolls of toilet paper a week mummifying all of them over and over again!

5. Dress Up Clothes — Everyone knows one of the best parts about Barbie is the fashion! Changing her outfit 307 times in an afternoon allows Barbie to become so many different things. Children also love to change into character. With all the Halloween costumes about to go on clearance and consignment shops stuffed with great choices, now is the perfect time to fill a dress up trunk for your home. Amelia loves having a great variety of outfits and props to choose from: pirate, witch, doctor, queen, mermaid, pioneer, etc.

6. Encourage leadership — Whether her Barbie owns her own business, runs a kingdom or a country, or is the lead on an expedition, one of the great parts of playing with Barbie is that girls are putting female characters in title roles. Expand those characters you overhear her creating and bring some of them to life by introducing her to powerful queens and female rulers from centuries past and present. Get to know the female entrepreneurs behind Barbie’s 2014 Career Doll of the Year Entrepreneur, like Reshma Saujani of Girls Who Code. When you see her using one of her dolls as a head of state, ask your daughter what issues are important to her and the people she is governing. Maybe she is working to stave off a deadly epidemic or she is leading people in planting community gardens in vacant lots and rooftops to end childhood hunger. You’d be surprised what issues kids are really passionate about. Unless we ask we may be totally unaware of their vision and solutions.

Example: If you notice your daughter always has her dolls running businesses along side her Barbie Entrepreneur doll, ask her lots of questions about the business — what service they provide or what product they make, how many people work there, how did they come up with these ideas, etc. You could even take it one step further and create business cards, a business plan, organize business travel, have Barbie address the city council on an issue impacting her business or clients. Doing all of this with Amelia led us to having a lemonade stand this summer that she and her little brother planned, budgeted, marketed, and staffed. At the end of the day the kids had earned just over $70 they split between two charities that are important to them.

7. Go Beyond — If your daughter keeps playing Barbie Wedding or Barbie Fashion Shoot, don’t underestimate what that could mean. First, the wedding business is a multi-billion dollar industry so me thinks it isn’t too shabby a line of work to get into. I wouldn’t write that off just yet. Suggest it be a destination wedding, and pour over maps or travel books from the library together. Or use that story line to build interpersonal and problem solving skills, like maybe two members of the wedding party are in a fight and the wedding coordinator has to settle things down. How would your daughter approach the situation?  Second, there are a ton of logistics that go into these two events, which necessitates someone in a leadership role. That little someone can review travel and hotel brochures, learn how to make reservations, create passports, practice new words from a foreign language, build the hotel her team will be staying at, plan a menu of ethnic food, learn the basics of a camera, study textiles, schedule the models and photographers, bake and decorate a cake…..


The possibilities of play are endless. You just have to be willing to follow where they lead. Your daughter most certainly is.

Amelia's busy work during our trip to Washington DC. I imagine Cleopatra Barbie will be joining the road trip!

Amelia’s busy work during our trip to Washington DC. I imagine Cleopatra Barbie will be joining the road trip!


Learn more about The Barbie Project and meet the other bloggers on the project.

On twitter, look for hashtag #BarbieProject and join the conversation.

{Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign as part of The Barbie Project. All thoughts and ideas are my own.}


Barbie Project


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. 

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

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The Barbie Project: Phew

Barbie ProjectThis month marks number six of the Barbie Project and I’m really grateful the only parameter given to all of us moms was: Get down on the floor, play, and observe. Share with us what you learn.

There is a lot we can learn from our kids, once we master the art of sitting back and listening. I think sometimes we get so busy in our ‘over-parenting’ mode that we miss the opportunities our kids provide.

About a week ago Amelia and I were walking into her Girl Scout Brownie meeting and the sun was at our backs, low in the sky on a late September afternoon. This elongated our shadows in front of us and as Amelia noticed this she began walking in a glamorous way and said, “Hey Mom! Do I look like Barbie?”

Given what I do for a living (in part, providing families with tangible tips on raising confident girls) you might think this question from her would make me panic that my young daughter’s strong body image and self-esteem had fallen apart, and months of playing with Barbie had driven her to accept harmful beauty norms and all of that baggage dumped on Barbie’s plastic shoulders. I could have launched into a soul-saving speech about how she’ll never look like Barbie unrealistic proportions and she’s beautiful just the way she is but beauty isn’t everything and it is who she is on the inside that counts……

Whoa! Deep breath.

2014-09-25 16.15.40

Instead, I said nothing and as I watched my daughter sashay across the parking lot I thought about what was inside my head at eight years old. You know what? I can distinctly remember watching my long shadows in the late afternoon in my front yard in Pittsburgh, thinking I looked like Barbie with my instantly-long legs and sophisticated walk on tip toes in my jelly shoes. I do not recall ever wanting to look like Barbie, but I certainly wanted to be grown up. I can remember wondering what I would look like as a grown up and that I couldn’t wait for long legs because that meant I was no longer a short little kid. Maybe that’s all Barbie meant to Amelia, too.

I was about to answer Amelia when she runway-walked herself right into a pole and fell over. With her arms and legs all over the place and everything she had been carrying spread about, she instantly reminded me of the mess of Barbies on her bedroom floor and I said yes, now she definitely look like her Barbies. She thought that was pretty funny and she walked into her Girl Scout meeting with a smile.

I think the lesson for both of us that afternoon: Being a little girl is all about having balance.


Fast forward to yesterday afternoon, Amelia was in her room playing with her Barbies and I wandered up to get a few photos for this month’s post. I walked in to find her in deep concentration, huddled over her toy dog.

The doctor tells me this dog choked on a hot dog during a beach rescue. I don't even know how that happens, but it sounds serious.

The doctor tells me this dog choked on a hot dog during a beach rescue.

“I’m going to need your help. This dog has a pulmonary aspiration…a giant hot dog. She’s been under for about twenty minutes and I’m going to have to do a tracheostomy at this point,” Amelia said is a very matter-of-fact, clipped manner.

“Oh, are your Barbies running an emergency vet hospital?” I guessed, kind of not getting what was going on. Which was about to become all the more clear in a moment.

“No honey, I am running the hospital. She went down during a beach rescue,” Amelia said as she continued to work on the toy dog. “I’m going to need you to scrub in. I need to tube her. Hurry up!”

I realized I didn’t know where exactly I was supposed to scrub in for surgery, and I was distracted by the pile of naked Barbies lined up on the floor next to me.

“Trach tube!” Amelia barked.

“The wha?” Me, clueless and feeling bad for my plastic patients.

Amelia using a Barbie to perform a tracheostomy during surgery.

Amelia using a Barbie to perform a tracheostomy during surgery.

“Oh never mind!” Amelia grabbed one of the naked dolls, spun her around in her hand and inserted a foot into the dog’s mouth and successfully ejecting a hot dog. Apparently the Barbies were Amelia’s surgical tools.

“I’m going to finish here. Go check on the mermaid in OR 6. She had a really bad case of bioluminescence. Make sure her kelp iv is still going and ask her friends to move to the waiting room. It is going to be a long surgery and I’m going to try a new procedure, but tell them her prognosis is good.”

The mermaid in OR 6.


PHEW! Yeah, you know, after six months of playing with Barbies, I think we’re all good here.

Amelia's patient pulled through surgery.

Amelia’s patient pulled through surgery.


Learn more about The Barbie Project and meet the other bloggers on the project.

On twitter, look for hashtag #BarbieProject and join the conversation.

{Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign as part of The Barbie Project. All thoughts and ideas are my own.}

Barbie Project


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. 

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The Barbie Project: Accessories Are a Girl’s Best Friend

We are in our final five days of summer, just a few sweet hours remain before the kids return to school. The memories have been made, trips taken, ballgames won, fireflies caught and released, trails hiked and lakes jumped into, bonfires burned, lemonade stands held, adventures with cousins had and more dinners allotted to the local ice cream joint than should be appropriate. Our summer bucket list is nearly complete and as we look down the home stretch to three glorious months…..

We can’t stand the sight of each other.

There has been a lot of “togetherness” this summer for the children and I, which is wonderful. And not, because I work from home and “work from home” with two kids + two dogs + two kittens is nuts. N – U – T – S.

So the other afternoon I had the kids go to their bedrooms with their kittens for some quiet time. An hour later I went to check on them on account of too much quiet – which is always unsettling for parents – and found Benny slumped over napping in a giant bucket of LEGO and Amelia sorting through all of her Barbie outfits and accessory pieces. Earlier in the day she had found a castle and furniture at a garage sale she just had. to. have. As her kitten purred in the background she dressed and redressed each doll as she planned out their role in the story she was creating in her head.

Kittens love Barbie.

Kittens love Barbie

I sat down and looked at the pieces around me which led me to think back on when I was her age and would have been doing the same thing during a rainy summer afternoon. I wondered what she was thinking about and if she would remember these lazy hours of her childhood like I do mine.

Amelia plays with her Barbies, obligatory Naked Barbie present and accounted for.

Amelia plays with her Barbies, obligatory Naked Barbie present and accounted for.

I asked her what she was playing and if her Barbies liked their new house. As we chit chatted, I surveyed the pieces around me.

The accessories around me gave me pause, they might not be what people associate with Barbie.

The accessories around me gave me pause, they might not be what people associate with Barbie.

The bright pink (SO much pink) accessories around me made me smile. They reminded me of the adventures my Barbies played out when I was a girl. They are bits and pieces to imagination. A key meant to unlock stories. A prop able to enhance a script waiting to be written and rewritten each time they were pulled out.

You know, Barbie takes a lot of heat for being vapid, focused on beauty, shopping etc. Maybe some Barbies facilitate that,  but I feel the dolls we’ve brought into our home for Amelia send a different message. I think it is easy to sell girls short and assume they’ll play “Wedding Day” or “Shopping Spree” over and over again with their dolls.

I think it is wise to expect more from girls.

Amelia's favorite dolls and their accessories.

Amelia’s favorite dolls and their accessories.

Pilot hat



Treasure chest

Ocean creatures and a bucket of fish

SCUBA tank, mask, regulator and fins

Briefcase, tablet, smart phone

Astronaut helmet and suit, air tank, moon boots

These things tell Amelia to go out into the world. To dive deep, soar high. To run a business instead of work for one. That the layers of the atmosphere do not confine her. They remind her girls are confident, competent, and courageous.

These items spread across Amelia’s bedroom floor could take her to a sunken ship full of treasure, an investment meeting, or a new planet waiting to be explored. Of course, those are the obvious uses and my eight year old would roll her eyes and says she is far more clever and creative than that. One of the things I like about Barbie is the outfits and accessories are interchangeable, meaning the stories waiting to be created during play are interchangeable as well. So the woman of color who is a pilot can easily change into the business outfit for a press conference because now she is the POTUS. YES. PLEASE.

And the astronaut suit could become a hazmat suit for compassionate health relief workers delivering a much-needed antidote to victims of a terrible epidemic or intrepid engineers who rescue people in danger on a broken space station who had been hunting treasure in space that is guarded by aliens posing as familiar sea creatures who cover you in goo and feed you to fury orange monsters who live in purple tents.

Listen, I’ve been critical of Barbie before and I probably will be again if need be. But I like the side of Barbie that shows girls they can dream and aspire to do big things in the world.

I guess sometimes I have to ask if it is Barbie who limits girls…..or the adults around girls who assume they know what will happen during play because girls are so……girly. I define “girly” as girls who see themselves as accomplished pilots, extraordinary ocean researchers, powerful businesswomen, and explorers of our world and beyond. Yeah, that’s VERY girly to me! More importantly, that’s how my daughter views being a girl and playing with Barbies has not come close to undoing any of that.

Amelia commented that she really really liked how the dolls' faces were different from each other.

Amelia commented that she really really liked how the dolls’ faces were different from each other.

The child’s imagination is limited only by toys that are limiting. The afternoon I spent watching Amelia play I observed Barbie as a great companion for story telling. Better put – Barbie was a vehicle for storytelling. When chosen with diverse storytelling in mind and with the idea that girls should know no limits, there are many Barbies that offer this type of play to girls. In our home I try to guide Amelia with choosing toys that reflect what real life looks like, so we make sure to have dolls that represent women doing a variety of jobs, experiences, and adventures. Equally important to us are dolls that represent women of color as the world is a colorful place.  I’d love for there to be even more diversity in Barbie’s appearance and body, and Amelia and I talk about that issue and how we’d like for Barbie to explore that more. Maybe some day they will.

I think there is a lot left to explore, including parents really exploring how their daughter’s imagination works and what stories unfold on bedroom floors or tree forts or where ever it is your girl’s dreams come to life and they use Barbie as a tool in that storytelling.

What stories does your daughter tell?


Learn more about The Barbie Project and meet the other bloggers on the project.

On twitter, look for hashtag #BarbieProject and join the conversation.

{Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign as part of The Barbie Project. All thoughts and ideas are my own.}

Barbie Project


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. 

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The Barbie Project: Barbie Meets the Man Eating Lions of Tsavo

I played with Barbies as a kid and I can’t quite recall what sort of stories my girlfriends and I acted out, but I feel like there were several sinking cruise ships, attempted kidnappings by Russians, and weddings that ended in disastrous emergencies requiring Barbie’s immediate attention and quick thinking. Which she always did best in a pale blue ball gown while leaping from her purple Corvette.

One thing I have noticed as I watch my daughter play with her Barbie dolls and act out dramatic scenes with the characters she develops is that the adventures she creates exponentially outpace what is sold to her through commercials or media built around products. I can’t think of anything specific, but shopping for prom and makeup disasters come to mind. I recall Amelia watching a video with a bunch of mermaids and there was some issue with a hair-product delivering prince. My brain didn’t really know what to do with that.

I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve never seen a commercial aimed at the 3-8 year old girl demographic themed around man-eating lions. 

We were on vacation for the first two weeks of July and last week Amelia did nothing but practice riding her bike in order to earn a kitten, so she hasn’t played with her Barbies in a while and was happy to pull them out again. She was also mad at me last week after I dashed her hopes of living in the Chicago’s Field Museum because I told her if she tried to live in the Field Museum she’d be arrested for squatting and because she is a minor I’d have to do her jail time.

So I have been exiled from her room since returning from vacation and therefore have not been able to observe her playing with her Barbies. I tried to mend fences by saying we could build a rocket ship and launch her Astronaut Barbie into space or build a ninja obstacle course and time her Barbies and they tried to make it to the finish line….

I thought I had her with the promise of pyrotechnics, alas I was only able to get into her room by saying I needed to check on the new kittens.

Amelia setting up the Barbie animal training camp sit, pre-man-eating lion attack.

Amelia setting up the Barbie animal training camp sit, pre-man-eating lion attack.


“Hi. How are the kittens? What are you playing?” -Me

“I’m playing with my Barbies. They are on a safari because they train cats and dogs to help people and this is part of the training.” -Amelia

“Oh wow, that is so cool. I really like their camp site. I like the little girl, is she so brave going out into the bush and training the kitten as her service animal?”  -Me

Tragically I do not think young Barbie ever saw her doom coming.

Tragically I do not think young Barbie ever saw her doom coming.

“What? Oh honey. No. She was dragged away from camp by a man-eating lion of Tsavo. You can’t go out into the bush or you will become prey. That is her body laying in the lair. Jabban is a porter and he shoots the lions with tranquilizers if he can see them in time. The team has lost six members already, the survivors are mourning. That’s why Barbie is up on the mountain now, she’s calling for reinforcements and she can guard the camp from up high.” -Amelia

“Wow.” -Me

“Listen, they were all told there were man-eaters in these parts. You have to understand the terrain. Scientists have to have respect for how violent nature can be. Why are all of their feet pointy? I have to pretend all these shoes are hiking boots. Will I really be arrested if I live at the Field Museum? Do you know anyone who has ever been arrested for that before? When I buy the Field Museum they won’t be able to arrest me because I will say it is my house.” -Amelia

Amelia uses her Barbies as trainers for service animals.

Amelia uses her Barbies as trainers for service animals.


And that’s the thing about girls, I’ve come to learn as I watch my daughter and her friends play. Sometimes what we find for them in the marketplace is limiting them based on gender stereotypes, but when girls are raised with the message the world is theirs to explore and nothing is off limits to them and their desire for learning and adventure…..you never know where they will end up taking you.

I don’t mind that Amelia uses Barbie to take her on these adventures.

Has your daughter ever surprised you with the stories she plays out with her toys? Has it shifted your perception of who girls are and what things they are interested in?


Learn more about The Barbie Project and meet the other bloggers on the project.

On twitter, look for hashtag #BarbieProject and join the conversation.

{Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign as part of The Barbie Project. All thoughts and ideas are my own.}

Barbie Project


*No Barbies nor kittens (nor man-eating lions) were harmed in the making of this post.

**The Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo were real and are on exhibit at the Field Museum. They were two young male lions that terrorized a rail camp in Kenya killing 135 workers.


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. 

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The Barbie Project: Our Barbie Dream House

My daughter has gotten into playing with dolls recently and it is fun to see the stories unfold as her imagination takes over. Sometimes she enjoys sitting and changing their clothes and putting together different outfits. Like a cute shift dress with an astronaut helmet and moon boots, or a wetsuit underneath a ballgown….because a girl never really knows what is going to happen with her day.

Amelia has been asking for a Barbie Dream house. The ones for sale are cute enough I guess, but they are big and expensive. As I looked the options over I didn’t feel like they represented Amelia’s dreams. Also, the pink. Just so much pink. I know that is Barbie’s thing, but Amelia loves blue. She loves science, art, travel, dogs and books.

Then I thought maybe it would be a fun project for her and I to build a house together. My mom made a castle for me when I was Amelia’s age and it was my favorite toy. My Barbies and My Little Ponies and Strawberry Shortcake dolls spent many, many hours playing in that castle. So did my cat.

The doll castle my mom made for me when I was Amelia's age. Beloved by me and my cat.

The doll castle my mom made for me when I was Amelia’s age. Beloved by me and my cat.

Amelia was a little unsure of how the project would turn out, but once I showed her the photos of my old castle she was hooked. And begging for a kitten.

We started by me handing her a pile of cardboard boxes I had been saving. Amelia was put in charge of designing the house how she wanted it, as well as choosing the right sized boxes to make it structurally sound. She spent about half an hour playing around with different options, realizing certain configurations posed a building collapse threat, and which boxes would give her the space needed for the different rooms she wanted.

Amelia designs the structure for her house using some simple engineering concepts.

Amelia designs the structure for her house using some simple engineering concepts.

Next we talked about what rooms/elements she wanted and how she would design it. As she looked over arts & crafts scraps for inspirations I wrote down her list:

– fireplace, elevator, singing shower + bath tub, television, carpet, chandelier, fancy couches, and pink, yellow, green, blue, red, and purple rooms.

Amelia develops concepts for her very own dream house.

Amelia develops concepts for her very own dream house.

We spray painted the boxes the colors that she had chosen. I guess we didn’t succeed in getting away from all that pink! This was the only step she didn’t participate in, mostly because she is a well-known rascal and learning how to operate spray paint is not a skill I want her to possess right now….

Our Barbie House gets under way....pink and turquoise.

Our Barbie House gets under way….pink and turquoise.

Next we got out art supplies, crafting scraps, and old magazines. We talked about what rooms would need what (the kitchen needs a fridge, she suggested it also needs a candy store). It was interesting to watch her pick styles and colors and personal touches that were important to her. And I learned fascinating facts from Amelia, like white shower curtains “are rather in bad taste” and that pools should always go on the roof.


Interior decorating begins. LOTS of imagination went into this.

Interior decorating begins. LOTS of imagination went into this.

We had to hold off on fixing interior lighting (I may or may not have started a small fire in one of the boxes with some faulty wiring. Oops.) and the elevator endeavor needs more work. We’ll have to postpone those as STEM projects for Mommy Summer School.

Each room offers things Amelia loves, and I’m so proud of what she created. This is really her Dream House…. 

She has her travel-themed bedroom that has a map of the Washington DC metro for a floor and pictures of kayaking, camping, and exploring on the walls. A sliding door takes her to her “outside hangout room” that she wanted. The other side of the second floor has her laundry room/sports equipment room and her art studio. The walls of the art studio feature inspiring words and a photograph of her hero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The master bedroom on the third floor has a library, a rocking closet that features a photo of the monarch butterflies she loves to raise from eggs, and bathroom with a huge counter and dual sinks (a concept she is obsessed with). The third floor also features her rooftop pool.

The main floor of the house has her big front porch, fancy Paris bathroom, a “living room that dogs and cats can go in but kids can’t run”, a dining room with a nature theme, and a kitchen with an ode to the Wisconsin cheese this kid lives on. And a chihuahua in a fancy bed to boot.

The finished house! It features all of Amelia's loves and dreams.

The finished house! It features all of Amelia’s loves and dreams.

Here’s some more detailed photos…..

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The rooms of Amelia's Barbie Dream House.

The rooms of Amelia’s Barbie Dream House.

I think it is safe to say, she likes it…..

Relaxing in her Dream House.

Relaxing in her Dream House.

It was so great to watch Amelia’s creativity and imagination blossom as she put this project together. I helped her with steps, but she the design is all her.

Have you ever created something like this for your child? What kinds of things do you think she would include that would reflect who she is?


Learn more about The Barbie Project and meet the other bloggers on the project.

On twitter, look for hashtag #BarbieProject and join the conversation.

{Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign as part of The Barbie Project. All thoughts and ideas are my own.}

Barbie Project


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. 

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The Barbie Project: Base Camps, Brains, and Beauty

This past Tuesday evening my eight year old daughter and I drove up to the UW – Madison campus to hear Dr. Mireya Mayor speak as part of the National Geographic Live tour. I had read Mayor’s book, “Pink Boots and a Machete” a couple of years ago and really enjoyed following her work. To my second grader Amelia, Mireya Mayor was a hero, part scientist and part Indiana Jones-like international explorer.

I think it is important for Amelia to have contemporary female heroines so when I saw that Mayor was coming to Madison I immediately bought tickets and I’m so, so glad that I did. Amelia and I had a GREAT time at Mayor’s talk. It was exciting, beautiful, inspiring, funny and touching. When Mayor first walked on stage in her sleek black pants, black stiletto heels and pin straight hair Amelia whispered to me, “Oh Mom! She looks like my Barbie scientist!”

I smiled and said yes, Dr. Mireya was indeed very pretty and that I was excited to hear about all of the adventures she had been on. Over the next hour we traveled around the globe with Mayor, going in and out of African rain forests and field sites in Madagascar and tent camps hanging off of cliffs in South America. We heard about Mayor being inspired by Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall. We learned about never-seen-before frogs and mouse lemurs Mayor discovered on expeditions, and we saw the ugly side of trekking around the world in the form of mud, blisters, hunger, and illness.  Amelia was breathless, hanging on Mayor’s every word. At one point Amelia became so excited I thought she was going to rush the stage.

And that is what I wanted for Amelia out of tonight — to see a woman standing in front of her who would say, “I did all of these incredibly amazing things and you can too.” I was thrilled to see so many young girls also in the audience. Entire Girl Scout troops had come to see her! In fact, during the Q & A following her talk I approached the stage and handed Mayor a copy of my book while I asked her to tell all of the girls in the audience what are two or three things they could do now as tweens and young women if they wanted to become scientists and explorers.

Mireya’s answer was beautiful, but it was also incredibly empowering. She shared with the audience that she had been told all of her life that she was a pretty girl. Her Cuban mother and over-protective aunts wouldn’t let their little doll be in Girl Scouts because they felt it was too dangerous. Mayor worked hard in school because she knew she was very bright (Fulbright scholar-bright), but her prettiness always came first to other people. In college she was treated poorly by professors who thought her too much a girly-girl to go on expeditions or be taken seriously about earning a PhD in anthropology. She experienced bias and stereotypes because to help pay her way through school she was a Miami Dolphins cheerleader. People couldn’t see past her attractive exterior to get to the intelligence and grit and confidence that lay underneath.

And as she talked about this, I kept thinking about Amelia’ comment about Barbie when she first saw Mayor. Amelia is a gorgeous girl, truly beautiful, and I wondered what she was thinking as she was hearing Mayor describe the bias she encountered because of her looks. It reminded me of another awesome and also beautiful female explorer we follow, Alison Teal. I didn’t want Amelia getting the message that the world would say you can be beautiful, or you can be brainy and brave. In our family, women are all three.

Because of her pretty face, no one took Mayor seriously at university. Until she made them. She proved herself over and over again in the field, has made remarkable discoveries in the field of primatology, and has done fantastic work traveling the globe as a National Geographic correspondent. Oh, and during all of this she just so happens to be a mother to five kids under the age of eight. Like I said, serious hero material right here.

She told the girls in the audience not to allow anyone to hold them back. She encouraged them to always believe in themselves and to believe in the power of their minds. She promised them there was so much left in the world to discover and it was just out there, waiting for them. And she told them that it didn’t matter what other people thought of them, they could become whoever they wanted to be.

After the show Amelia and I grabbed a slice of pizza and while we were eating I asked her what her favorite part of the night was. She chattered about needing a passport and wanting to drop out of second grade to begin attending UW Madison.  Amelia said that she liked how Dr. Mireya was pretty and proud to be a girl but that what was most important was how smart and brave she was.

Amelia looked up at me in that moment, her eyes a little misty and she said in a tone reflecting awe, “Mom? Remember the part when Dr. Mireya was talking about sleeping above the clouds? I’m going to do that some day, too. I’m going to be just like her.”

Amelia is speaking of an expedition Mayor took to remote mountains in South America, described as lost islands in the clouds. On cliffs thousands of feet in the air Mayor and her crew spent the night in tents sitting on a three foot wide shelf, secured to the rock face with climbing pins. When she woke the next morning she was face-to-face with the sunrise, having slept above the cloud layer.

Something like this….

Climbers with tents secured to the cliff face.

Climbers with tents secured to the cliff face.

Which is why the following day, I should not have been shocked when I walked into Amelia’s room and discovered this:

Amelia's recreation of one of Mireya Mayor's expeditions.

Amelia’s recreation of one of Mireya Mayor’s expeditions.

Base Camp Barbie and her porters are cliff camping, in my bras, just like Amelia’s hero Mireya Mayor. Amelia was using her Barbie dolls to play out the exhilarating adventures flying through her imagination. The human lungs and heart are from her medical school mannequin, I’m guessing those are supposed to be the rocks at the base of the cliff.

I’ve been criticized for allowing Amelia to play with Barbie, and I understand some of the concerns and I think everyone has the right to their own opinion. But what I notice when Amelia plays with Barbie is that she isn’t really focusing on the beauty or the fashion. She uses her Barbie to play out adventures, just like I used to do when I was little with my Barbies. I think craving adventure must run in the family.

I think raising healthy girls is all about balance, so Amelia and I talk about body diversity and defining beauty for ourselves and we make sure her Barbies are wearing clothes that aren’t too sexy and shoes that allow Barbie to accomplish the adventure at hand. I have great conversations with Amelia as she questions or calls out ridiculous body proportions and homogeneous beauty she sees in media. She sees me model a positive, healthy body image.

So I can handle a little Barbie. After all, Amelia is using the world’s most beautiful and most vilified doll to prove to me that she knows that pretty’s got nothing to do with it. Bravery and brains are what we value most in our family. Amelia has shown me that beautiful Barbie and adventurous play are not mutually exclusive.

Maybe Amelia will grow up to be a world-exploring, cliff-camping, jungle-trekking anthropologist who repels off some of the globe’s steepest cliffs in search of unfound species while coming face to face with some of the deadliest snakes. I hope so, if that is where her heart takes her. Considering the rest of Amelia’s bedroom looks like this, I see a prescription for Xanax in my future…..

Amelia's desk, full of specimens, a camera, magnifying glasses, and homemade satellite phone and computer.

Amelia’s desk, full of specimens, a camera, magnifying glasses, binoculars, and homemade satellite phone and computer.


Amelia's prize possessions, her giant microscope and whale chart.

Amelia’s prize possessions, her giant microscope and whale chart.


Learn more about The Barbie Project and meet the other bloggers on the project.

On twitter, look for hashtag #BarbieProject and join the conversation.

{Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign as part of The Barbie Project. All thoughts and ideas are my own.}

Barbie Project



Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. 

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The Barbie Project: My Little Girl Has Two of Everything

The other day my daughter and I were sitting under a sun-filled window in her room, setting up her Barbie camping set as her Elsa doll and Dolphin Trainer Barbie were going camping with Elsa’s pet Golden Retriever and the trained dolphins. I took this quiet moment to share with my daughter that very good friends of ours were going to become foster parents to a girl her age.

She thought over my words a bit, and then asked if the girl could come over to play with her. I said that after the girl had had some time to adjust to her new family and home, a playdate would be a great idea.

Amelia looked down at her dolls and said softly, “Good, because I have two of everything.”

I wondered what she meant by that, did she mean all of her dolls? Her outdoor toys? Her science kits? The fact that she has a bedroom upstairs she never really uses because she still sleeps in the bunk in her little brother’s room? Did she mean all of the clothes she has?But in that moment I did not want to pry because she seemed to be in a very reflective state. Was she thinking about what would happen if her parents were unable to take care of her? Was she thinking about having to move into a new home with a new family?

She focused intently in setting the scene for her Barbies to begin acting out the script it seems she had written in her head. Accessories and props were being set just so. Outfits changed and changed again until the perfect cast had been assembled for the day’s play. I can remember doing the same when I was a child, where the rules of the real world didn’t apply to the stories I created. I wondered what Amelia and her camping dolphins were about to say.

Amelia's Barbie dolls, waiting for the day's casting call.

Amelia’s Barbie dolls, waiting for the day’s casting call.

“I have two of everything, so it would be very easy for me to share everything with her. Do you know if she has brown skin?” Amelia asked.

“Oh, actually I don’t know what she looks like. I just know her name and her age. Why do you ask?” I know my child is enamored with Martin Luther King Jr (among other things, they share a birthday), but I thought it was an odd question for her to ask.

“I asked because I only have one brown skinned Barbie. We need to go get another one before she comes to play. I want her to see that my Barbies can be different people and when you sort them out I have too many that are blonde with blue eyes. I have two green eyes and four brown eyes including the dolls from Jordan but only one of them who isn’t a mermaid has brown skin. But all skin is beautiful so we should just make sure there is a nice mix,” Amelia said and I have to admit, I was really proud that she thinks about these things when she plays. My kids have been raised to noticed gender balance, body diversity, and racial diversity in the media they consume.

“Well, sure, diversity is important and we should have it in our toys, too. So we should definitely get another brown skin Barbie.”

“Right,” Amelia agreed, “because either way we’re going to need two Rosa Parks. And Rosa Parks was not a mermaid, let me tell  you.”

“Ah, sure. I had not thought of that.”

“Oh, honey. I know.” And with that Amelia turned back to playing, arranging the camping tent, pail of fish for the dolphins, and glowing campfire just so.

And I think sometimes we need to pause and recognize toys we may or may not love as parents can mean something different to our daughters. We can be aware of and decode the messages these toys send and I feel that is very important, but not at the expense of missing the messages our children are sending back to us.

A Barbie doll is a toy my child owns. It is a tool operated by her imagination. It is not what defines her, nor writes her future. What a girl owns is not necessarily who she will become. I want to give my daughter a great variety of toys to engage her imagination. I also want to give her the space to show me who she wants to be in this world. This afternoon playing with Barbie allowed her to do both. I saw her imagination at work, as well as the kindness and sharing in her heart.

The camping expedition gets under way.

The camping expedition gets under way.

Learn more about The Barbie Project and meet the other bloggers on the project.

On twitter, look for hashtag #BarbieProject and join the conversation.

{Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign as part of The Barbie Project. All thoughts and ideas are my own.}

Barbie Project


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. 

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

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