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?


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{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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