NEW YORK – A few weeks after her foray into the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, Barbie is entangled in controversy again, this time about her ties with the Girl Scouts.
Two advocacy groups often critical of corporate advertising tactics – the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for a New American Dream – on Thursday urged the Girl Scouts of the USA to end its partnership with the doll's manufacturer, Mattel.
The partnership, announced last August, includes a Barbie-themed activity book, a website and a Barbie participation patch – the first Girl Scout uniform patch with corporate sponsorship.
"Holding Barbie, the quintessential fashion doll, up as a role model for Girl Scouts simultaneously sexualizes young girls, idealizes an impossible body type, and undermines the Girl Scouts' vital mission to build 'girls of courage, confidence and character,' " said Susan Linn, director of the Boston-based commercial-free childhood organization.
She said the Barbie patch – targeted at 5-to-8-year-old Daisies and Brownies – would transform these girls into "walking advertisements."
"This is product placement at its worst," said New American Dream's executive director, Wendy Philleo, who described herself as a longtime admirer of the Girl Scouts.
"Our children are already being bombarded by marketers' pitches at stores, at home, online, on TV, and in school," said Philleo, whose Charlottesville, Va.-based group tries to counter the commercialization of American culture.
The Girl Scouts' national headquarters in New York rejected the groups' appeal.
"Our partnership with Mattel focuses on career exploration and teaches girls about inspiring women in a fun way," its statement said. "We stand behind this partnership, as it helps us bring to over 2 million Girl Scouts the message that they can do anything."
That's the essence of the Barbie uniform patch – a bright pink oval with a gold-letter slogan stitched on it: "Be anything. Do everything."
Barbie – still slim-waisted and long-legged after 55 years – had pursued about 150 different careers, and she stretched her boundaries again in February by posing along with real-life supermodels in Sports Illustrated's 50th anniversary swimsuit issue.
Anticipating the criticism that ensued, Mattel promoted the campaign with the catchword "unapologetic."