September 4, 2023

When Barbie was a Paleontologist

Posted by Laura Guertin

Disclaimer – I haven’t seen the Barbie (2023) movie. And for full disclosure, I had a Barbie doll when I was a kid. It was a Ballerina Barbie, with a white tutu, ballet shoes, a bouquet of red roses, and a gold crown that was permanently attached to her head. Beyond that Barbie doll from the mid-1970’s, I never thought about Barbie again.

photo of doll in a boxExcept… flash to 1996, when the Barbie Career Collection featured a Paleontologist Barbie. A little internet searching reveals that there have been two additional Paleontologist Barbies released (see three different dolls/packaging). But I only ran out to purchase the first one because…. why not? Then my Mom purchased one for me as well, which allowed me to take one apart and explore what came in the package, and one Barbie has stayed in her original box perhaps to become unearthed in the future.

Paleontologist Barbie came with a field bag that you could insert the paper rock hammer, paper map of Pangea, paper dinosaur ID cards, and paper dinosaur bones. She also had a bright pink canteen, a pink dinosaur bookmark, and two dinosaur toys (different boxes had different dinosaur species). The doll was wearing field boots and a field hat.

Geologists definitely took notice of Paleontologist Barbie. The April 1998 issue of EARTH Magazine featured a column written by Steve Mirsky, a review titled “Barbie Has A Bone To Pick.” He details how a paleontologist at Univ. of California Santa Cruz and her students modified the clothing to make it look worn, covered her in dirt, and covered her with a second-degree sunburn. They also cut her hair to be short (the article stated that “Real paleontologists also wonder how Barbie keeps her flaxen tresses so fabulous in the field”). The article has a photo of before (out-of-the-box)/after (modifications) of the doll, along with comments from scientists about this Barbie that range from “completely sickening” to “bodacious”.

The Mirsky column motivated Susan Bednarczyk to write a Rebound from Readers submission which was published in the August 1998 issue of EARTH Magazine. As a friend of Barbie, she also included a photo of Barbie in her column. But this Barbie was dressed in more traditional gear, “including a borrowed [long-sleeve] shirt of Ken’s”. Bednarczyk stated that, “As high-visibility women with multiple careers and interests, Barbie and I are always under pressure to look and perform our best. Others may scoff at our inclination to put a little effort into looking good in the field….” But Bednarczyk even shares how one can maintain long hair in the field even without electricity for using a curling iron.


Photos of Paleontologist Barbie and the items she comes with, including snapshots of the back of the box


I tore both of these articles out of my issues of EARTH Magazine and stored them with my Paleontologist Barbies. It was interesting to go back and reread them – and to notice there is no mention of the color pink, Barbie’s go-to color. Even today, it is a challenge for anyone to bring or wear something that isn’t black/gray/brown in the field. As recently as 2020, Rebecca Dzombak quotes in a GSA Speaking of Geoscience blog post the gatekeeping that is still taking place in the geosciences: ‘You’ve got pink field boots, so you’re not really dedicated’.

But I am feeling optimistic that not just pink but all colors and identities are being welcomed into a safer, inclusive field environment. I see rock hammers with pink handles and other pink tools for sale in hardware stores – and this equipment making its way to field sites. When I was out to sea on a ship this past summer, the Chief Engineer wore a pink hard hat and had a pink water bottle, as pink is the favorite color of his young daughter. It doesn’t matter the color or the reason you select that color – as long as the clothes you wear and the tools you use are appropriate to ensure you are safe in the field.