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Nation/World

March 7, 2014

Girl Scouts refuse demand to end Barbie partnership

NEW YORK — 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.

Yesterday, 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 — 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,” said spokeswoman Kelly Parisi. “We stand behind this partnership, as it helps us bring to over 2 million Girl Scouts the message that they can do anything.”

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