Op-Ed: A Case for Why a Peace Corps Barbie Could Spark Volunteer Interest Among Youth
By Megan Dial
Image generated by NPCA Staff using Midjourney
I’m a Barbie girl. Growing up, every birthday and Christmas I would ask for one thing: more Barbies. By the time I started to enter middle school, my playroom would have served as a miniature functioning society. There was a high school and teachers, a doctor’s office, nurses, a farm, restaurants, sports teams, and even a president to rule. Though it has long been since I last played with my dolls, the memories I made have never left. Entering my last year of college, I have begun to explore jobs in the real world. Chief among my “real world” dreams is to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer, which got me wondering: Is there a Peace Corps in Barbie world?
No, there is not — or not yet!
Although, joining a corps would not be new to Barbie. In 1965, Barbie’s role as “Miss Astronaut” preceded women’s participation in NASA’s astronaut corps, which did not occur until the late 70’s, allowing Barbie to explore space before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. In 1991, Barbie served as a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant, and she seems to be on a war path considering she has also been a part of the Air Force, Navy, and Army. Barbie would make an excellent Peace Corps Volunteer candidate as she has also had experience as a renewable energy engineer, chief sustainability officer, wildlife conservationist, entrepreneur, and teacher of several subjects including English, Spanish, Science, even Sign Language, just to name a few. Perhaps one of her most compelling bits of history on her resume was serving as a UNICEF ambassador in 1989.
Peace Corps Barbie could help spread the message that volunteerism isn’t something to neglect, but rather something that must be handled responsibly.
Despite Barbie’s clear passion for sustainability and development, when I looked up Peace Corps Barbie or volunteer Barbie or humanitarian Barbie, I found nothing except a Facebook and Instagram account under the name ‘Barbie Savior.’ Barbie Savior began posting in 2016 and abruptly stopped in 2019. Not associated with any particular volunteer organization, the account’s Barbie Savior started documenting her mission to “save Africa” in March 2016 and has since become a social media icon poking fun at white saviorism and the white savior complex. Barbie Savior has gained a great deal of attention, accumulating over 147k followers on Instagram. While I had quite a few good laughs looking at the account — like when she got a tattoo of Africa over her heart with the words “te amo” after being there for a week — Barbie Savior opens the door for an intriguing discussion over ethical versus unethical volunteer service. Barbie Savior shares what unethical volunteer service looks like. If recruited, Peace Corps Barbie presents a unique opportunity to showcase the ethical side of volunteerism, where volunteers partner with local communities to empower and encourage sustainable economic growth. Instead of just western dumping of foreign aid, Peace Corps Barbie could help spread the message that volunteerism isn’t something to neglect, but rather something that must be handled responsibly.
Peace Corps Barbie could help spark children’s exploration of global citizenship and how they can serve communities on an international scale, not just with the agency itself but within the entire global community development sector.
And who better to learn about this responsibility than the children who bring Barbie to life? According to research from the 2022 International Conference on Humanities and Education, children’s career choices mainly became stable between ages 7 to 14, after frequently changing interests. As children use this time exploring what they want to be when they grow up, play takes over an essential role. Play allows children to explore careers, identify themselves with main characters, and improve their self-career understanding. It makes sense then why without any personal desire to be a teacher or a gymnast, those Barbie’s appealed less to me than, for instance, politician and explorer Barbie. That’s why it’s so important for kids to be able to have access to toys that spark their interest and curiosity. I’d heard of Peace Corps before, but it was always something that felt far removed from me. I never really understood what it was or what it did until I did my own research as an adult. Likewise, I had no idea what global community development was until I had entered college. Because I had seen doctors and knew that was something I could do, I applied to undergrad as a biology major only to drop out after taking one biology class. A few weeks later, a coworker of mine offhandedly mentioned double majoring in political science and international relations. I had no idea what international relations was, but after our brief conversation I thought, ‘that sounds interesting,’ and switched my majors and have never looked back. Had I grown up with a Barbie in the international relations field, I might have felt more connected to that field and more comfortable in selecting it as a major sooner. Peace Corps Barbie could help spark children’s exploration of global citizenship and how they can serve communities on an international scale, not just with the agency itself but within the entire global community development sector.
Megan Dial is pictured as a child receiving two Barbie and the Diamond Castle dolls for Christmas.
So here’s my pitch for a Peace Corps Barbie. To honor these two groups’ retro roots — the first Barbie was created in March 1959 by Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler which was two years before Peace Corps’ founding in 1961 — her makeup and hair could be in a vintage style. Perhaps she could mimic style icon, first lady Jackie Kennedy with subtle makeup and a short bouffant — the perfect mix of being both elegant and out of the way so she can stay focused on her global community work. She’ll wear her Peace Corps shirt with a pair of respectable, but chic linen shorts. Like any proper fashionista, she must accessorize. But Peace Corps Barbie wears necklaces made by local jewelry makers in her host country, and she enjoys gifting those she loves with products made by Peace Corps-served communities, which is why her dolls would come with a life-sized matching necklace, and the proceeds would go back to the jewelry makers. And since Peace Corps Barbie is committed to fostering education and Peace Corps’ Third Goal her doll would come with a handbook exploring the various Peace Corps country posts and volunteer work completed.
To recap, Barbie certainly has the experience and dedication to make for the ideal Peace Corps Volunteer. Her platform as a powerful influencer in early career exploration can help develop the next generation’s interest in global volunteerism. She has all the grace and style to capture and amplify Peace Corps ideals, while also demonstrating her position as a global citizen and how much she values and brings to that role. For these reasons, this Barbie girl is calling for the expansion of Barbie’s global impact in our Barbie world.
Megan Dial is a 2023 NPCA summer intern working with the communications team. She is a rising senior at the University of Arkansas, and she’s double majoring in political science & international and global studies.