Barbie: Inspiration or 'terrible role model'? Girl Scout partnership sparks controversy

By Lisa Flam

In her 55 years, Barbie has worn many hats: She’s been a princess and an aerobics instructor, a presidential candidate and police officer. Now, the wildly popular yet often controversial doll is joining the ranks of the Girl Scouts, and causing a stir once again.

The Girl Scouts teamed up with Barbie’s maker, Mattel, last year. Scouts can earn a Barbie “Be anything, Do everything” participation patch, the first ever with a corporate sponsor, and a Girl Scout-inspired Barbie doll is rolling out in stores.

Although corporate sponsorship is everywhere, from athletic stadiums to youth baseball jerseys, critics believe the partnership is a bad fit for the Girl Scouts. With her passion for fashion and impossible hourglass shape, consumer groups feel that Barbie in a scouting uniform sends the wrong message.

“Barbie is basically a terrible role model for girls, and she’s not about what the Girl Scouts’ principles are, which have to do with leadership and courage,” Susan Linn, a psychologist and director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, told TODAY’s Janet Shamlian.

The Girl Scouts strongly defended the partnership and the new doll, countering that Barbie has a wholesome image.

“Girls and moms alike associate this doll with the outdoors, camping, giving back in your community, and we think that those are really positive messages to all of our girls,” said Kelly Parisi, spokeswoman for Girl Scouts of the USA.

Mattel stood by its three-year deal with the Girl Scouts, saying in a statement to NBC News that Barbie’s mission is a good fit with the scouts, inspiring girls’ imaginations and showing them they can be anything they want to be.

As children are faced with ads and sponsorships at an early age, one mother of a scout told TODAY that the doll and patch are no big deal.

“I think if the girls didn’t identify with Barbie, it might create a problem for us as parents, but the girls love them,” she said. “It represents what they love.”

Another Barbie that captured headlines this year was Entrepreneur Barbie, which Mattel hopes will inspire girls to follow their dreams as the doll celebrates real-life female entrepreneurs.

Barbie attracted wide attention — and criticism — in February for appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a swimsuit model.

Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.