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Mattel Dedicates New Barbie to COVID-19 Frontline Workers

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One of the world’s largest toy manufacturers is out with a new line of dolls honoring America’s healthcare providers. The iconic Barbie doll has been around since the late 1950s, but she’s never looked so good. The latest installment of everyone’s favorite plastic working woman is modeled after six nurses and doctors, and they all continue to play a key role in the pandemic.

It’s the perfect way to say thank you to these six incredible women,  as well as an entire generation of healthcare providers. The dolls may even help inspire young girls to pursue a career in medicine.

Doppelganger Dolls

Amy O’Sullivan never thought she’d become a doll. As a nurse at the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY, she witnessed some of the worst days of the pandemic as the virus decimated healthcare systems across the city. Her work is bringing her some well-deserved attention. TIME Magazine thrusted her into the national spotlight when they chose her as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2020. Her face even landed on the cover of the magazine.

O’Sullivan was stunned when she heard she was going to get the plastic treatment from Mattel. The company went to great lengths to capture her essence in doll form. The doll has the same tattoos and signature bandana that O’Sullivan would always wear to work.

“I used to get a hard time from the administrators about my tattoos and my hair and my pants being rolled up. But I didn’t want to be like anyone else,” she says. “I’m 58, and I had no role models when I was growing up. This, I think, shows kids it’s O.K. to be different. It encourages them to be themselves.”

O’Sullivan, who’s worked at the same Brooklyn hospital for nearly 20 years, doesn’t exactly consider herself the Barbie type. She’s 58 with gray hair and regularly rides a Harley to work.

“What an honor that [Mattel] would actually reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, we would like you to be a role model for little girls and represent nurses around the world to show girls that they can do anything and be anything.’”

She says the modeling process could get pretty intense. “We were communicating every day, 10 times, 15 times a day, Zoom, over the phone,” she recalled. “They said this was going to be a one-of-a-kind doll, with your hair and your glasses and your socks and your shoes.”

The company announced five other versions of the new healthcare-themed doll. The others are modeled after Dr. Audrey Sue Cruz of Las Vegas, who continues to stand up to bias against Asian American physicians, Dr. Chika Stacy Oriuwa from Canada, a psychiatry resident who’s calling attention to racism in the healthcare industry, Professor Sara Gilbert of the U.K., who helped develop the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Jaqueline Goes de Jesus of Brazil, a biomedical researcher who has been sequencing the genome of a new variant of the virus, and Dr. Kirby White of Australia, a general practitioner that developed reusable PPE for doctors.

Bringing Hope to Providers

Mattel says it wanted to do something special to honor all the heroes of the COVID-19 crisis. All six providers were presented with their own one-of-a-kind doll, a fitting tribute after months of grueling work.

While the tribute dolls aren’t for sale, the company is releasing a new line of generic nurse, doctor, and paramedic-inspired barbies, which will be sold at Target during the month of August. The company agreed to donate $5 for every doctor, nurse or paramedic Barbie sold at Target to the First Responders’ Children’s Program, which supports the children of first responders if they are killed in the line of duty.

Lisa McKnight, global brand manager for the company and Vice President of Mattel, said, “This fall, admittedly, we thought we would be further along in the pandemic. But it was important to honor these amazing medical workers across the globe as we continue to face a difficult time.”

She added that Barbie has taken on a variety of roles in the healthcare industry throughout her 62-year run as one of America’s best-selling toys. “We hope these dolls can spark important conversations about the pandemic. While it’s a somewhat scary topic, we think it opens the door to discussing these frontline workers who are amazing role models,” McKnight said.

O’Sullivan says she didn’t really play with Barbies growing up, but she did have a Ken doll. She lives with her partner, Tiffany, who’s also a nurse at Wyckoff Medical Center, and their three daughters. She first bought her kids the gender-neutral version of the doll when the company released it back in 2019.

She hopes these new dolls will continue to inspire young people to get involved in medicine, but she doesn’t think the pandemic will let up any time soon.

“We just can’t get away from it,” she says. “I see these young people not wearing masks. And, you know, those are the people that COVID is affecting now, the younger generation. They’re becoming very sick. And it’s never going to go away until we get vaccinated and wear masks.”

We’re so excited that Mattel decided to model its dolls after these heroic providers. Be sure to grab your own nurse, doctor, or paramedic Barbie at your local Target. 

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