Mattel’s Barbie Turns Women of Medicine, Including COVID Vaccine Developer, Into Dolls

The multi­na­tion­al toy man­u­fac­tur­er Mat­tel is encour­ag­ing young­sters to play doc­tor — not a euphemism — and hon­or­ing first respon­ders with the recent release of three health­care-themed “Career Bar­bi­es.”

The com­pa­ny is putting its mon­ey where its mouth is by donat­ing $5 to the First Respon­ders Children’s Foun­da­tion for every doc­tor, para­medic, or nurse Bar­bie pur­chased at Tar­get through August 28.

Mat­tel has also iden­ti­fied six female health­care pio­neers whose efforts dur­ing the pan­dem­ic mer­it a one-of-a-kind Bar­bie who shares their like­ness.

Vac­ci­nol­o­gist Sarah Gilbert, who led the team that devel­oped the Oxford/AstraZeneca vac­cine, describes this unex­pect­ed hon­or as “a very strange con­cept” (pre­sum­ably as com­pared to being award­ed a dame­hood or receiv­ing a stand­ing ova­tion at Wim­ble­don.)

The 59-year-old Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor added that she hoped the char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly smooth plas­tic doll would be “part of mak­ing it more nor­mal for girls to think about careers in sci­ence, although, to be hon­est, when I was a young girl I nev­er believed that I would­n’t have a career in sci­ence.”

If the doll falls short of inspir­ing girls to con­sid­er a career in STEM, Women in Sci­ence & Engi­neer­ing (WISE), the non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion Pro­fes­sor Gilbert chose to receive a dona­tion from Mat­tel on her behalf, can take up the slack.

One of the most com­pelling of the six cus­tom-made Front Line Respon­der Bar­bi­es is based on vet­er­an nurse Amy O’Sullivan, a heav­i­ly tat­tooed, queer moth­er of three, who cared for the first COVID-19 patient (soon to become New York City’s first offi­cial COVID death) in Brooklyn’s Wycoff Hos­pi­tal.

Soon there­after, she sur­vived being put on a ven­ti­la­tor with COVID her­self, even­tu­al­ly wind­ing up on the cov­er of Time Mag­a­zine, in the same neck­er­chief, flo­ral socks, eye catch­ing sur­gi­cal cap and woven bracelets her tiny scrub-suit­ed dop­pel­ganger wears.

Sure­ly Amy O’Sullivan is a bet­ter all around role mod­el than the sim­i­lar­ly inked Toki­do­ki Bar­bie or Total­ly Tat­too Bar­bie, or for that mat­ter, the non-cus­tom made First Respon­der Nurse, whose descrip­tion on Target’s web­site seems a bit ret­ro­grade, giv­en the events of the last year and a half:

Wear­ing cute scrubs fea­tur­ing a med­ical-tool print top, pink pants and white shoes, Bar­bie nurse doll (12-in/30.40-cm) is ready make her rounds and check on patients!

The real life O’Sullivan, who was very involved in the cre­ation of her cus­tom doll, seems tick­led by Mattel’s faith­ful recre­ation, telling The New York Post:

When I was younger I always felt like an out­sider — nobody ever looked like me, talked like me, walked like me. I had no role mod­el at all when I was grow­ing up. So if I can be some lit­tle girl’s role mod­el that feels like this, I would love that. 

Nurse O’Sullivan had stronger words for those who have aged out of the demo­graph­ic, in a recent inter­view with Time:

I see these young peo­ple not wear­ing masks. And, you know, those are the peo­ple that COVID is affect­ing now, the younger gen­er­a­tion. They’re becom­ing very sick. And it’s nev­er going to go away until we get vac­ci­nat­ed and wear masks.

That might be a bit heavy for those on the younger end of Career Bar­bi­e’s rec­om­mend­ed 3 and up age group (“espe­cial­ly those inter­est­ed in care­tak­ing and help­ing oth­ers!”), but hope­ful­ly her words will car­ry some weight with those respon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing those chil­dren.

The oth­er cus­tom-made Bar­bi­es hon­or:

Dr. Audrey Cruz, who col­lab­o­rat­ed with oth­er Asian-Amer­i­can physi­cians to bat­tle anti-Asian-relat­ed bias spring­ing from the pan­dem­ic

Cana­di­an psy­chi­a­try res­i­dent at who bat­tled sys­temic racism in health­care a doc­tor in Las Vegas who is cam­paign­ing against racial bias against Asian-Amer­i­can physi­cians

Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to psy­chi­a­try res­i­dent, Chi­ka Sta­cy Ori­uwa, whose activism includes cre­at­ing ini­tia­tives to boost the num­ber of Black stu­dents apply­ing to med­ical school and cre­ate net­works of sup­port for schol­ar­ly and pro­fes­sion­al advance­ment with­in the Black com­mu­ni­ty.

Bio­med­ical researcher Dr Jaque­line Goes de Jesus whose team sequenced the SARS-CoV­‑2 genome with­in 48 hours of receiv­ing sam­ples from the first infect­ed Brazil­ian patient, dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing the vari­ant from the one that caused infec­tions ear­li­er in the pan­dem­ic.

Dr Kir­by White, founder of Gowns for Doc­tors,  an Aus­tralian ini­tia­tive that addressed a nation­wide short­age of per­son­al PPE by deliv­er­ing free, wash­able, vol­un­teer-made reusable gowns to front­line staff.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Women Sci­en­tists Launch a Data­base Fea­tur­ing the Work of 9,000 Women Work­ing in the Sci­ences

How Zora Neale Hurston & Eleanor Roo­sevelt Helped Cre­ate the First Real­is­tic African Amer­i­can Baby Doll (1951)

The New David Bowie Bar­bie Doll Released to Com­mem­o­rate the 50th Anniver­sary of “Space Odd­i­ty”

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.Follow her@AyunHalliday


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