Have you ever heard of a little brand called ‘Barbie’?

Well, she’s turning 60 this year, and she’s not showing signs of stopping – or ageing, for that matter. But she is showing signs of progress; earlier this year Mattel announced a new licensing agreement with legendary travel behemoth National Geographic, with dolls due for release later this year. And I hate to say it, but I think they look pretty darn cool…

Now, Mattel – that huge company that owns Barbie- are no strangers to these kinds of licensing partnerships. Perhaps you remember the questionable “McDonald’s Fun Time” Barbie, or that one where they dressed some poor doll head to toe in Oreo products!

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Mattel are no strangers to controversy either. Reigning from the 1950s, when the world was a very different place, it’s not hard to see how some of Barbie’s previous products have come under fire with accusations of being misogynistic, perpetuating gender stereotypes, heteronormative (sorry, Ken) – and unequivocally in poor taste. We’ve seen everything from the poorly named “Shero” line, to the arguably offensive “I Can Be a Computer Engineer” book and topped off by the ill-famed “Maths is hard; I love shopping” talking doll that was seared into cult history via that 1994 Simpsons episode. I guess progress is slow, huh?

None the less, Barbie’s sheer domination of the doll market means that even with these blips Barbie remains to be an unstoppable force that evidently children still want to buy. One of their earliest forays into portraying a world outside the size zero, peroxide blonde, Malibu mini dress was a line of cultural dolls named World Dolls Collection which features over 100 different dolls from varying nations styled to represent the ethnicity and (admittedly somewhat stereotyped) traditional clothing of each nation. I liked this series, I even bought some of the Indian dolls and recalled carefully examining burka-clad Saudi Arabian Barbie at Jeddah airport. It’s hard to show all cultures with just hairstyles and clothing, and so the range varies from the beautiful golden Thai costume to British Barbie being portrayed as British by simply wearing the Union Jack? I’m genuinely surprised she didn’t come with a teacup in hand and removable umbrella accessory.

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Barbie’s more recent ventures in “rolling with the times” I can also appreciate, as they are at least trying. Dolls from the Fashionista line include several cute travel-themed sets, clearly targeted more towards a millennial-parent audience that see Barbie straying from the archetypal bimbo to a curvy woman of the world. I mean, the fact that these dolls even moderately resemble the proportions of a real woman now is cause for some encouragement.

Along with this, they have a collection of add ons such as a really expensive plastic plane and a really expensive plastic campervan so that Barbie can roam free, kind of. But all of these are exclusively lurid fuchsia – because that’s what girls like, right? I get the ideology behind it – Barbie has always been somewhat synonymous with pink, but please! This has been a cause for contempt that even with Barbie’s largely progressive list of careers there’s always some kind of sparkly pink stethoscope to remind us that she’s not just a doctor. No, she’s a GIRL doctor.

Enter National Geographic with some much-needed realness; their forthcoming line has reportedly been designed with the help of an advisory panel of National Geographic Explorers, including Editor in Chief, Susan Goldberg. She has reinforced the brand’s collaboration saying

“Helping people understand the world is, and always has been, the core purpose of National Geographic. Through our partnership with Barbie, we are excited to reach kids in a new way, using the power of play to inspire our next generation of explorers, scientists and photographers.”

Which I think roughly translates to – we want to use our influence to create a Barbie doll that actually embodies the careers of female scientists in the field and empowers young women. The line even includes a very subdued amount of pastels, thank god. It will feature a Wildlife Photojournalist, an Astrophysicist, a Polar Marine Biologist and an Entomologist (which is fancy talk for a scientist that studies insects) and will be available towards the end of 2019.

Whether you’re down with Barbie’s colourful (and no, I don’t mean pink) past, or not, I think it’s fair to say that the brand is making some positive changes to try and evolve and grow with their audience. Personally, I would have loved to have dolls like this growing up and hope that today’s youth can benefit from a progressive society that no longer sits back, but demands brands to cast off dated values and stop with the whole girls/boys divide once and for all.

For a glimpse of the future of Barbie check out their Instagram account @barbiestyle – I’m super impressed by it. They have some really great shots of Barbie travelling, working, strutting around like a god-damn kween and taking selfies, of course. I think if this is the path Barbie is going to follow the National Geographic dolls stand to be a huge success, and one that hopefully will mark the age of bimbo Barbie and the glittery lab coat officially over, and make room for new bad-ass Barbie, who don’t need no Ken and lives in a world that is only partly swathed in pastel pink.

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