I was just doing a little holiday shopping online, looking for Barbies for my daughter, and I found the “Career Barbie” section. Barbie is just as versatile as when I was a kid–she can be an astronaut, teacher, chef, nurse, dentist, whatever!
While I appreciate Barbie’s fashion choices (cool vaguely-inspired-by-molecular-structure skirt!), as a fellow scientist, I was mildly annoyed by the inaccuracy of her outfit. In the lab, we follow certain rules and have to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) depending on how dangerous the lab environment is. Minimally, this includes a lab coat, safety goggles, gloves, long pants, and close-toed shoes. This is to avoid injuries from chemical spills, dropped equipment, and biological contamination.
(Note: I’m assuming that she works in a biological lab, like me, because she has a microscope designed for glass slides plus a lab coat.)
Mattel, is it really hard to put Barbie in long pants, like the ones Nurse Barbie wears? Or how about some comfortable shoes, because the ones she has on looks like they’d be hell to walk around the lab in (in addition to being a slip hazard plus having an open top). I know that looking “pretty” is her thing but lab coats are not meant to be worn as casual accessories. Could you at least have given her some pockets in her coat for her lab pens and calculator? Also, why the hell is she holding a random microscope like it’s some kind of purse dog? And without gloves?
At least this illustration of Scientist Barbie from the STEM Kit is a little better:
On the other hand, you don’t need to wear a lab coat to be a scientist. Scientists who work in labs are supposed to wear their coats while in the lab (even though I know a lot of lab scientists who don’t–looking at you, Academia!), but outside the lab we dress just like anyone else. Albeit, with long pants in the summer and no sandals, unless you keep spares at your desk. (Further Reading: Why Don’t I Wear a White Lab Coat?)
While I’m at it, Scientist Barbie reminds me of my favorite Tumblr, “That’s Not How You Pipette,“, a collection of clips from movies/TV shows where actors are portraying scientists but are holding the lab equipment all wrong.
Now compare Scientist Barbie with Lego’s version of a (woman) scientist: the Chemistry Scientist from the Research Institute set.
I have this set at my desk actually, it’s pretty cute. She’s a little safer than Scientist Barbie because of her long pants and flat, closed shoes, but she needs to close her lab coat and wear some gloves. As you would find in scientist stock photos, she is staring intently at a piece of lab glass filled with a colored liquid. (Recently, there was a promotional video filmed in my lab and the people directing the shot had us pipette flat colored soda just so we would have something colored to stare at, like “real” scientists.) Further Reading: “Stereotypes And The Stock Photo Scientist.”
Before I get back to my job as a scientist (I think there are some colored liquids in glass vials that I can stare at), here’s a little lab humor:
The no pants thing with the open toed shoes is pretty hilarious. I also see fantasy versions of lab workers in marketing materials. I work in a different kind of lab (electromagnetics), but I noticed that in professional brochures of other labs I see glam made-up versions of lab techs and engineers that I have never seen true to life. Glammy-fantasy versions of us as tanned, smiling, in good shape people of course in our 20s.