‘Life in plastic': The history of Barbie’s multiple public safety careers
Ahead of the new film based on the iconic doll, we look back on Barbie’s multiple roles as a first responder
Chances are, if you haven’t been living under a cultural rock since before the Berlin wall was built, you know what a Barbie doll is, and have likely stepped on a plastic shoe or two in your time.
First introduced in 1959 as a teenage fashion model, Barbie quickly gained popularity among young girls and soon began racking up careers off the runway.
Not only does Barbie have a diverse professional background, she is a trailblazer as well – and has served as a role model for many girls and young women. How so? Four years before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, Barbie became an astronaut. In 1963, when few women were in positions of power, Barbie took on the job of business executive.
Ahead of the July release of “Barbie” – a feature film starring Margot Robbie as the iconic doll and Ryan Gosling as her male counterpart, Ken – we’re look back at the history of Barbie’s journey in public safety and emergency services, beginning in 1993.
1993: Meet Officer Barbie with the Barbie Police Department
Barbie’s first role in public safety came in 1993 when she became a police officer for the Barbie Police Department.
Officer Barbie comes with a police K9, a walkie-talkie and a flashlight.
A formal gown and award for Best Police Officer are also included for Barbie to attend and accept the honor at the Police Awards Ball.
A list of safety tips for girls also accompanies the toy:
- Memorize your address and telephone number;
- Don’t take rides from strangers;
- Say “NO” to drugs;
- Look both ways before you cross the street;
- Always wear your seatbelt.
Where to buy Officer Barbie: Officer Barbie is currently only available to purchase through third-party resellers.
In 2019, when homicide detective Angela Murphy was playing Barbies with her 4-year-old daughter, they discovered there were no police officer dolls available for purchase.
“There was an incident at the market where they needed a police officer, and it was at that point I realized we didn’t have any police officer Barbies,” Murphy said in an interview with 10 WAVY. She could only find retro versions of the 1990s police officer – nothing modern.
Undeterred, Murphy, who works for the Virginia Beach Police Department, gathered multiple cops and FBI agents, as well as several girls and their Barbie dolls, for a photo shoot. She sent the photos to Mattel, along with a letter asking for the company to sell Officer Barbie once more:
We are coming together to ask that Mattel bring back the Police Officer Barbie!! We want young girls to see law enforcement in a positive light. We, too, want girls, of all ages, to know they can be anything they choose to be! Things happen in the Barbie imagination world, just like in real life. I personally want my baby girl to know there can be a crime fighter in her imaginary world, as well, and it can be Police Officer Barbie! I’m positive that many mothers feel the same :)” — Excerpt from Murphy’s letter to Mattel
It’s unclear if Mattel responded to the letter; however, Officer Barbie has not returned to store shelves in the four years since the story went viral.
Barbie officially donned her first pair of turnout gear in 1995, outfitted in a bright yellow uniform with red suspenders and a matching yellow helmet. Firefighter Barbie, who works for – who else? – the Barbie Fire Department, also comes equipped with a medical bag and a Dalmation fire dog.
Mattel released two additional iterations of Firefighter Barbie, first in 2015 and then again in 2021 to elevate the work of firefighters during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can see the progression of the doll’s outfit through the years:
Like Officer Barbie, Firefighter Barbie also comes with a list of safety tips for kids:
- Have a working fire detector on every floor of your home;
- Test smoke detectors every month, and replace batteries once a year;
- Practice a fire escape plan with your family twice a year;
- Know two ways out of every room; and
- If you have a fire, get out fast and then call for help.
All great tips, Firefighter Barbie!
Where to buy Firefighter Barbie: While the 1995 and 2015 versions of Firefighter Barbie are only available through third-party sellers, the 2021 version can be found at most major retailers for around $15.
2021: Meet Paramedic Barbie
Most recently, Barbie earned her paramedic certification. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Mattel released its first Paramedic Barbie to honor the work of EMS providers during the once-in-a-lifetime event.
Equipped with a stethoscope and medical bag, Paramedic Barbie is considered “petite,” making the doll smaller than the other career Barbies.
Where to buy Paramedic Barbie: The EMS-themed doll can be purchased at most major retailers, including Amazon and Target.
BONUS: American Girl – EMT
Barbie is not the only doll to “work” as a first responder. In 2020, American Girl selected Richmond (Virginia) Ambulance Authority EMT April O’Quinn as one of five winners of the company’s “Heroes with Heart” contest, created to honor pandemic frontline workers. O’Quinn was nominated by her niece, and the two were gifted a custom American Girl doll in the likeness of O’Quinn, down to the matching RAA shirt and badge, plus a $200 American Girl gift card.
American Girl dolls feature a hero with heart
The newest American Girl doll inspiration, RAA EMT April O’Quinn, is a guiding force for new and future EMS providers
The “Barbie” movie will release in theaters on July 21. Check out the trailer below: