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New Barbie exhibit tackles dream gap

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By the age of 5, little girls stop believing they can accomplish whatever they put their minds to. 

That’s according to a study from New York University and Mattel, Inc., Barbie’s parent company. To change perceptions and give young girls the inspiration they need to dream big, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis recently opened the “Barbie, You Can Be Anything: The Experience” exhibit.

Sarah Myers, the exhibit project manager, said the exhibit takes visitors through the six-decade history of Barbie, showcases the various careers Barbie has had over that time frame and highlights five powerful women throughout history who made an impact. 

“Barbie has had over 200 careers,” Myers said. “So, she’s been a very busy lady. … We show girls a wide variety of careers, and hopefully the dolls spark conversations within families.”

The first Barbie doll — which is on display at the exhibit — was released in 1959 after creator Ruth Handler noticed her daughter’s toys limited her in a way her son’s toys didn’t. 

“She noticed that her daughter was limited to playing as a mother or caretaker,” Myers said. “Whereas her son could be a pilot or an astronaut. She wanted more for her daughter. … Her philosophy was through the doll, a girl can be anything she wants to be.”

In the exhibit, visitors can try their hand at beekeeping through an interactive station, explore 11 different careers and learn about women who made a mark on history, such as Amelia Earhart and Ella Fitzgerald. 

“We have five panels that talk about some of the inspiring women dolls that the Barbie line has highlighted,” Myers said. “There are so many great women to choose from, and we wanted people from a diverse background, diverse careers, ethnic diversity and also we wanted a diverse time frame.”

Along with Fitzgerald and Earhart, other women showcased in the panels include Laurie Hernandez, Florence Nightingale and Katherine Johnson. A pair of Earhart’s goggles, pulled from the museum’s archives, and Fitzgerald’s 1983 Grammy Award for “The Best is Yet To Come” are alongside their respective panels. 

Currently, due to COVID-19 precautions, guests are asked to make reservations, and anyone over the age of 2 is required to wear a mask. Every two hours, the exhibit closes for cleaning, and hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes are provided at every interactive station. 

The exhibit will be open throughout 2021, although Myers said the museum doesn’t have an official end date planned due to the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19. After the exhibit closes in Indianapolis, it will tour the country for five years.  

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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