Over the past year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic has permeated our daily lives – in the news, in the form of ever-changing mandates and protocols, in popular culture, and of course, in the overall grief and anxiety experienced around the world. But with the advent of COVID-19 vaccines and their increasing availability, people were finally allowed to hope, and start the long, long road back to “normal.”
Now, the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming even more entrenched in popular culture, but this time, in a more positive, hopeful way.
Mattel has created six new Barbies to honor frontline women of science that have been working tirelessly in the fight against the novel coronavirus, including British vaccinologist and Oxford University professor Sarah Gilbert, who was instrumental in leading the development of the Oxford/AstroZeneca vaccine.
In recent years, Mattel has focused on updating Barbie’s image into more relevant, representative, and diverse forms, including embracing new combinations of body types (including dolls with disabilities and health conditions), skin tones, and hair textures. Their newest line of “Women in Science’” dolls aims to recognize strong, intelligent women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers.
Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine co-developer Sarah Gilbert is honored with a Barbie doll. Gilbert's Barbie shares the scientist's long auburn hair, oversized black glasses and wears a navy blue pantsuit and white blouse https://t.co/fMICB5rcKr pic.twitter.com/2tgDNjahua
— Reuters (@Reuters) August 5, 2021
Lisa McKnight, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Barbie and Dolls at Mattel, hopes that Mattel’s “recognition” of these frontline heroes “shine[s] a light on their [frontline workers’] efforts…[and] inspires the next generation to take after these heroes.”
Mattel has repeatedly faced criticism in the past for failing to represent diverse images of women in their Barbies, sometimes coming under fire even when they attempt to do so. However, these recent additions to the Barbie family look to honor real-life women and their heroic efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, and, by extension, hope to show their appreciation for “all frontline workers.”
For her part, Sarah Gilbert told The Guardian in July that she hopes her Barbie will inspire young women around the world to enter into STEM careers. “I am passionate about inspiring the next generation of girls into STEM careers and hope that children who see my Barbie will realize how vital careers in science are to help the world around us.”
Gilbert’s doll is created in her likeness, with the vaccine developer’s long, auburn hair, signature glasses, and navy blue pantsuit. She also joins the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Marilyn Monroe, and Beyoncé, all of whom have also been made into Barbies. While she finds being a Barbie “a very strange concept,” Gilbert also recognizes its importance and possible role in normalizing women’s crucial role in the scientific community. She has also chosen the nonprofit organization WISE (Women in Science in Engineering) to receive a financial donation from Mattel.
Mattel’s other five honorees include Americans Dr. Audrey Sue Cruz, a frontline doctor in Las Vegas and fighter of discrimination, and ER nurse Amy O’Sullivan, who treated the first COVID-19 patient at Wycoff Hospital in Brooklyn; Chicka Stacy Oriuwa, a Canadian psychiatry resident and advocate for eliminating systemic racism in healthcare; Dr. Jaqueline Goes de Jesus, a Brazilian biomedical researcher who led genome sequencing of a COVID-19 variant; and Kirby White, an Australian doctor who pioneered a protective, reusable surgical gown for frontline workers.
British COVID-19 vaccine developer Sarah Gilbert is one of six women that Mattel will honor with their new Women in Science role model dolls, all in the hopes of honoring women in STEM and recognizing the heroic efforts of frontline workers. And with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine reaching a milestone of one billion doses in July, Gilbert’s role in its development is more than worthy of recognition and appreciation, not just from Mattel, but from all of us.