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Associated Press
Two advocacy groups often critical of corporate advertising tactics on Thursday urged the Girl Scouts of USA to end its partnership with Barbie manufacturer Mattel.

Barbie, Scout pairing raises ire

Groups say doll poor role model for young girls

– America’s top doll, Barbie, finds herself in controversy once again, this time over a business partnership between her manufacturer, Mattel, and the Girl Scouts.

On Thursday, two consumer advocacy groups often critical of corporate advertising tactics – the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for a New American Dream – criticized Barbie as a flawed role model for little girls and launched a petition drive urging the Girl Scouts of the USA to end the partnership. The Girls Scouts said they would not do so.

Just a few weeks ago, Mattel incurred widespread criticism – as well as some accolades – for letting Barbie be featured in Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit edition.

The Girl Scouts’ partnership with Mattel, announced last August, includes a Barbie-themed activity book, a website, and a Barbie participation patch.

“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 commercial-free childhood organization in Boston.

“This is product placement at its worst,” said New American Dream’s executive director, Wendy Philleo.

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,” spokeswoman Kelly Parisi 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 roughly 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.”

In announcing the partnership with Mattel last year, Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez depicted both her own organization and Barbie as “American icons.”

“Together, we are teaching girls that their futures are wide open with possibilities,” Chavez said at the time.

Parisi, in an email Thursday, said Mattel gave the Girl Scouts $2 million to implement the Barbie-themed initiatives. At the time the partnership was announced, the Girl Scouts were struggling financially, with revenue shortfalls prompting the national headquarters to trim about one-fourth of its staff through buyouts and layoffs.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said the Girl Scouts’ Barbie-themed website included a game that would encourage girls to identify careers based on attire – “from a veterinarian in a frilly miniskirt, to a pink-suited U.S. president, to a race car driver in stilettos.”

Said Susan Linn, the campaign director: “The website is little more than an interactive ad for Barbie promoting the brand’s insidious message that women really are what they wear.”

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