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Spirit of the Game: Barbie on target, but shoots and misses

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Mary Fowler Barbie - The Catholic weekly
Mary Fowler has partnered with Mattel for a one-of-a-kind Barbie doll.

The makers of Barbie have worked hard to promote amongst young girls everywhere the message “You Can Be Anything.” Except last week, they included the caveat, “except the owner of a Mary Fowler Barbie doll.”

In a marketing blitz to honour the accomplishments of international female athletes, last week Mattel released a figurine of the Australian soccer star’s likeness in a sports series of Barbie “You Can Be Anything” dolls.

While well intentioned, the move sparked public outcry amongst young female soccer fans around the country, when they learned it was a limited edition run, of one.

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The campaign—part of the toy giant’s ongoing 65th anniversary celebration—also features seven-time grand slam winner and American tennis great Venus Williams, Canada and football’s leading international goal scorer Christine Sinclair, Spanish paratriathlete Susana Rodriguez and gold medallist French boxer Estelle Mossely, among others.

And guess what? You can’t get any of them either.

These dolls only exist as one-of-a-kind items, which is a real shame because in the hands of the right kids, they might have genuinely been as inspiring to them as the women they depict.

It’s no secret kids look up to their heroes. They want to dress like them, act like them, be like them.

Mary Fowler is that hero for so many young girls and aspiring women footballers, not just in Australia but around the world.

Her star power has been on the rise ever since debuting at age sixteen as the youngest ever Australian at a FIFA World Cup in 2019.

The now 21-year-old has since heavily featured in Manchester City’s women’s team and most recently last year helped her Matilda’s to a World Cup semi-final on home soil.

Pretty inspiring stuff. Mattel knows it too.

Complete with her bubble braid, iconic black gloves and Adidas-branded speed boots, the brand’s take on a “mini-Mary” sent the internet wild.

“Harper said she wants this for her birthday & she wants to be @maryfowlerrr,” fellow Matilda Katrina Gorry wrote on Mary’s Instagram post.

“PLEASE tell me this will be available to purchase,” another said.

“This would have been a dream for me as a little girl to see something like this,” Optus Sport presenter Michelle Escobar said.

It’s disappointing then to know the closest anyone will ever get to a Mary Fowler Barbie doll will be through a screen.

Kids aren’t inspired by images of and articles about a barbie doll they can’t have. No, they’re inspired by their heroes and the tools at their disposal that help them feel like their heroes.

For any kids dreaming of being footballers, those tools are a football, gloves and a pair of boots. This was the chance to add “Barbie” to that list.

You could buy a generic “Soccer Player” Barbie from the “Career Dolls” line which Mattel is promoting instead, but it’s just not the same.

Give a kid a choice between their favourite team jersey and that same team jersey with their favourite footballer’s name and number printed on the back, and you know which one they’d prefer.

So, for a marketing campaign hoping to encourage girls to participate in sports and be like their role models, the idea falls just short. Mattel struck gold, but failed to cash in.

It begs the question. If “You Can Be Anything,” why can’t you be just like Mary Fowler?

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