Breaking Barriers With Barbies – Tessa Virtue

With the release of the 2019 Shero Role Model series, young girls will now get to see the possibilities ahead of them, thanks to a group of empowered women, including Canada’s own Tessa Virtue.

This year marked a momentous occasion — the 60th anniversary of Barbie. Having been around for six decades, Barbie has had to adapt and evolve with society. One recent shift that has taken place is the movement toward the empowerment and education of young women and girls. One way that Barbie has made an effort to raise awareness is through the Dream Gap. Research has shown that around five years of age, girls often begin to develop limiting self-beliefs, based on stereotypes and gender roles presented in society, while young boys don’t experience this. This phenomenon, dubbed the “Dream Gap,” results in a lack of confidence and a limited outlook as to their own abilities.

To help counteract this and show girls the endless array of possibilities available to them, Barbie released its 2019 Shero Role Model series on International Women’s Day. Displaying a selection of original dolls representing 20 women from 18 countries across the world, including professional tennis player Naomi Osaka and actress, model and activist Yara Shahidi, young girls can imagine themselves through the eyes of these empowering role models, with diverse careers ranging from athletes to journalists to scientists.

One of the women included in this series is Tessa Virtue, the Canadian ice dancer who won two gold medals at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics with her skating partner, Scott Moir. Working together for more than 20 years, they have taken the ice dancing world by storm, winning five Olympic medals and illustrating to young girls, and boys, that with hard work, you can accomplish your dreams.

“I keep thinking about how I felt at five years old and what I was playing with, what I was thinking, what I was dreaming of. And it’s so sad to me that any young girl wouldn’t be aware of the potential and the possibilities that await her. And I think my part in this as a role model is just to share my story,” she says.

Looking back at her own childhood, though Virtue did spend much of her time on the ice, she still spent time playing with her own Barbies, creating intricate lives for them. “My Barbies could do and be anything,” Virtue says. “I was quite imaginative as a young girl, and the layers and the nuances in these storylines that I would come up with relating to my dolls were just so extensive. And I know now just how that play affected the way that I approached and saw the world.”

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Although not all young girls are able to have such an expansive view of the world, with initiatives like this, soon young girls all across the globe will begin to understand that their options in life are endless. Virtue’s been able to see this first-hand in her own life in many ways, but an interaction with her four-and-a-half-year-old niece stands out.

“She was recently playing table hockey and said pretty innocently to my brother, ‘Is the goalie’s hair just in a bun under her helmet?’ not thinking that that game was made for males and young boys,” she recalls. “I just thought that was so beautiful and so pure, and the longer she can hold on to that sense of limitlessness, the better. I think there is a bit of a shift [happening]. There’s more fluidity to those typical gender roles, and I think that’s key.”

“Whatever your passion may be, wherever your dreams may lie, I just want young girls to have the opportunity to chase those dreams — fearlessly”

When undergoing the surreal process of designing her doll, there wasn’t much contention when it came to the design. “We wanted it to be that iconic red Moulin Rouge Free Dance dress from the PyeongChang Olympics, [with] matching hair and makeup. Finding just the right balance of likeness was a collaborative process, but one that was very open and honest and exciting. And I think it couldn’t have turned out any better. I think the likeness is uncanny,” she says with a laugh.

Throughout her life and her career, Virtue has had a dedicated group of people surrounding her who have helped her recognize that her dreams are possible with hard work and dedication. Now, working with Barbie, she will be able to act as a role model for young girls, letting them know their dreams are possible, too.

“Whether you’re an athlete or you’re pursuing sciences or whatever your passion may be, wherever your dreams may lie, I just want young girls to have the opportunity to chase those dreams — fearlessly,” she says. “If I could have just some tiny, little iota of impact on some young girl, then mission accomplished.”

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Victoria Scott

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