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Barbie Doll Takes On New Role In Girls’ Lives

By Allison Ward & Lisa Abraham The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio.

Barbie has committed her share of faux pas over the years -- and not just in fashion.

From being criticized for perpetuating unrealistic body standards to making it seem uncool to be smart (the early 1990s Teen Talk Barbie said "Math is tough"), she hasn't always been a symbol of girl empowerment during her 56 years.

However, with a new online commercial and its You Can Be Anything movement launched this month, the brand is showcasing the stories Barbie allows girls to tell, said Michelle Chidoni, spokeswoman for Mattel, maker of Barbie.

"It's to remind mom, and parents in general, of the role Barbie has while a girl is on her journey to self-discovery," Chidoni said.

In the YouTube video -- which has been viewed nearly 10 million times -- young girls act as professors, coaches, veterinarians and businesswomen while a hidden camera captures the reaction of adults.

"Hello, my name is Gwyneth, and I'll be your professor today," says a confident girl to a hall full of college students.

Maddie, a pigtailed soccer coach, tells players to keep their knees up "like a unicorn."

At the end of the two-minute spot, the video cuts to Professor Gwyneth playing with a pretend classroom of Barbie dolls in her bedroom. "When a girl plays with Barbie, she imagines everything she can become," the screen reads.

Barbie fans and those more critical of the doll have taken the message to heart -- and the conversation onto social media and blogs.

"Shut up. This is adorable. You go, Barbie," tweeted Gahanna resident Hannah Roll.

"The notion is different from what Barbies were when I was a little kid with the Barbie Dreamhouses," Roll, 25, said in an interview. "Barbie has moved into an era of empowering girls to be whatever they want to be and not just what someone tells you to be."

Mattel has hit a home run, said Matt Wilson, chief executive officer for SBC Advertising in Columbus.

"This ad takes Barbie out of her Dreamhouse and puts her into Barbie's new startup," said Wilson, whose company isn't affiliated with the Barbie ad. "I think it's a great idea," he said.

Not everyone agrees, though.

Jill Bystydzienski, a professor at Ohio State University's Department of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies, gives Mattel credit for trying, "but I don't think they got it right yet."

"I think it sends a mixed message," Bystydzienski said in an email interview, "On the one hand, the message is that girls can be and do anything, but the adults' reactions are laughter and amusement, so girls are not being taken seriously."

Barbie has had a "pretty big target on her back" lately, Chidoni said.

"As a cultural icon, things get projected on you and those things have been very noisy the past couple of years. We're taking the time to reshape what Barbie means to culture."

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