Barbie the iconic, plastic-fantastic play figure has announced a surprising new partnership with National Geographic.

Gone are the pastel pink accessories and plastic playhouse and in their place is a pair of walking boots, a long lens camera and a field guide to Lepidoptera.

Mattel, the company behind America's favourite doll, says the aim of this partnership with the travel publishing house is to create "a product line and content centered around exploration, science, conservation and research".

You were far more likely to discover the doll in her beach cruiser than in the field, but with new models planned - including Astrophysicist Barbie and Marine Biologist Barbie - signal a new more adventurous direction.


In short Barbie has gone bush. But is this more than Barbie's latest makeover?

Since the first toys were created for children in 1959, Barbie has had a number of career changes.

Many of these reincarnations have been travel themed, such as "pink passport" Pilot Barbie or Flight Attendant Barbie.

However, the image has always been closer airline high-glamour than exploration and adventure.

The partnership with National Geographic aims to change this.

"Barbie allows girls to try on new roles through storytelling by showing them they can be anything and, through our partnership with National Geographic, girls can now imagine themselves as an Astrophysicist, Polar Marine Biologist and more," said Vice President of Barbie, Lisa McKnight.

Until now the 'Career Doll', which is a favourite play thing for generations of girls, has been underrepresented in the fields of conservation and science.

Similarly the number of women pursuing careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines is shockingly low.


Just 18 per cent of the 13559 members of the International Astronomical Union are women. New Zealand is represented in the Union by just four female astrophysicists. Although this is up from 13.5 per cent a decade ago, following the IAU's 2009 "She is an Astronomer" movement which first set out to gather statistics on representation.

Entomologist Barbie: One of the dolls in the National Geographic Barbie range. Photo / Supplied
Entomologist Barbie: One of the dolls in the National Geographic Barbie range. Photo / Supplied

Could Astrophysicist Barbie play a part in encouraging more women into the sciences?
Likewise could a Polar Marine Biologist fill young girls' dreams with a career studying migratory Arctic whales?

National Geographic seems to think so.

Susan Goldberg, editor in chief, says that the core purpose of National Geographic has always been "helping people to understand the world".

Goldberg, the first female editor of the 130-year-old magazine is a great believer in the Barbie collaboration and "the power of play to inspire our next generation of explorers, scientists and photographers."

In 2016, when Barbie released their 'Scientist Career Doll' clad in an obligatory white coat carrying an "accessory" microscope, it was widely derided.

The National Geographic range wider strives to portray startlingly rich array of careers in travel and the natural sciences, acknowledging that not all science takes place under a microscope slide.

The doll which has devoted its life to the study of Lepidoptera - aka Barbie the butterfly scientist - is a far cry from her predecessors. Who would have imagined in 1959 Barbie would have been caught dead with anything as deeply unfashionable (or vaguely creepy) as a corkboard and mason jar full of insects.

But does science Barbie still have an image problem of a different kind?

As the Coco Khan, the Guardian's Women Wide Awoke columnist noted of Entomologist Barbie she remains "a white, skinny girl, with a full face of makeup and a forced smile."

As Khan notes there is a delicious irony in 'Conservationist Barbie'; "because nothing says 'save the planet' quite like a piece of mass produced plastic."

Only time will tell what the outcome will be from this strange, arranged playdate between Mattel and National Geographic. One thing's for certain: Barbie is now 'woke' on women in STEM careers, even if their 9-12 age range audience might not yet be.

The dolls will be on sale in the US from the end this year, with additional travel and wildlife inspired content with National Geographic partners to be aired on the Barbie YouTube channel.