If Barbie wants to be a scientist, she needs better PPE

Medical and scientific Barbies are not appropriately dressed for clinical or laboratory work, according to new research published in the British Medical Journal.

Researcher Katherine Klamer from Indiana University analysed 92 medical and scientific Barbie dolls, finding all failed at least one basic lab or clinical safety protocol.

“Female scientist and doctor Barbie dolls mostly wore clothing, accessories, and hairstyles that directly hindered their safety and interfered with their job performances” the paper states.

According to the paper, all 10 scientist and 2 science educator Barbies need to tie their hair back “to prevent it from getting caught in experiments and machines”. 

The sleeves on most laboratory coats were too short, and only one Barbie scientist had appropriate shoes covering her toes and feet. None wore gloves.

Scientist Barbies were most likely chemists or biologists, the paper concludes based on her accessories which included: microscopes, laptops, flasks, scales, test tubes, Bunsen burners and beakers.

Of 80 medical Barbies – including 53 doctors, 15 nurses, 11 dentists and 1 paramedic – only 2 wore face masks. None wore gloves, and most wore high heels generally not recommended for hospital and clinical settings.

Most medical Barbies came with a stethoscope, along with an assortment of other medical paraphernalia including: crutch, bandage, beeper, blood pressure cuff, clipboard, ophthalmoscope, eye chart, reflex hammer and syringe.

Fewer than a third (29%) of all scientist and medical Barbies had their legs fully covered by pants or skirts.

1973 surgeon
Barbie was a surgeon as early as 1973 / Credit: Mattel, Inc

Doctor Barbies should probably know better, given they were first released in 1973. While laboratory scientist Barbie dolls only debuted recently in 2015.

The paper concludes: “Barbie has a commendable resume that spans various careers, many of them male dominated. To prevent Barbie from being barred from her place of work, future dolls should be equipped with the proper personal protective equipment needed to safely perform laboratory and medical work.”

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