While the Girl Scouts may still feature their seven legacy badges “Artist, Athlete, Citizen, Cook, First Aid, Girl Scout Way, and Naturalist,” the Scouts have come a long way from the days of campfire and sewing skills. Today’s Scouts have to “be prepared” for a world greatly changed by technology, social media and the demands of a youth culture that has crossed lines that previous generations of Scouts never even conceived of. Last year Barbie, of Barbie Doll fame, joined the Girl Scouts in the form of a new participation patch that reminds girls that they can “be anything” and “do everything.” While the girls might think the patch is awesome, after all, Barbie has cornered the market for generations on little girl’s dreams, some think Barbie as a role model is a poor choice and fault doll maker Mattel for capitalizing on an advertising gold mine.
The Barbie participation patch, which is the first ever to be sponsored by a commercial corporation, comes with a tie in to a special Brownie and Daisy activity book for the younger Girl Scout groups and asks the question, “Do you know what you want to be when you grow up?” It also asks the girls if they know what their dreams are but assures them that it is okay if they have not yet figured that out because “one thing is true: You can be anything you want to be!” It is not this innocuous and arguably positive message that consumer groups have faulted. Rather, the protest comes from the association with what many consider the overly sexualized Barbie as a role model, her lack of redeeming qualities and the use of Girl Scouts as walking billboards for Mattel.
Susan Linn, director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) says that using Barbie, the “quintessential fashion doll” as a role model for Girl Scouts serves to “sexualize young girls.” She also points out the long-standing criticism of Mattel’s vision of the perfect woman in that the Barbie Doll body type is unrealistic. Linn claims that having Barbie in the Girls Scouts undermines the Scout’s mission, which is to build courage, confidence, and character, and to make the world a better place. CCFC offers a petition asking the Girl Scouts to stop their association with Mattel’s Barbie. The petition features a quote from Troop Leader Christie Parker who says that Girl Scouts should be “a safe place for girls to be who they are and not be fed images of corporate falsehoods on who they should be.”
A second consumer group, the Center for a New American Dream (CNAD) is also protesting the commercialization of the Girl Scouts. The CNAD’s purported mission is to get Americans to “reduce and shift their consumption to improve their quality of life” and to “protect the environment,” and to “promote social justice.”
Edna Rienzi from CNAD claims that although in her youth she was a Girl Scout and now as a mother to three girls is a troop leader, she is very disappointed by the Barbie participation patch. Rienzi says that there are “so many disturbing” things about the partnership that she does not know where to begin.
Rienzi criticizes the Girl Scouts for using Barbie as a role model because of her “influence on young girls,” her “unrealistic body size” and the link to eating disorders and issues that come with a negative body image. Rienzi strongly urges the Girl Scouts to “discontinue this partnership, and to maintain the organization as one of the few commercial-free experiences in a young girl’s world.”
Mattel executives believe that Girl Scouts and Barbie go hand in hand since Barbie helps girls in their “journey of self-discovery.” The Girl Scout organization has downplayed any criticism of their choice to use Barbie as a role model. Instead, they claim that Barbie plays the role of a fun teacher who can instruct the girls about inspiring women.
Girl Scout spokesman, Kelly Parisi says the organization remains in support of the partnership with Mattel and that with Barbie’s help, the organization can bring the over 2 million Girl Scouts the message that they can do anything. It remains to be seen if Barbie joining the Girl Scouts as a role model will further the positive development of young girls or if the new participation patch and accessories serve mostly as a marketing goldmine for Mattel and the further commercialization of youth.
By Alana Marie Burke
Follow me on Twitter