The Shonda Rhimes Barbie is part of a worldwide model series

Shonda Rhimes is a writer, CEO of a global production company, Shondaland, and one of the most renowned storytellers. She has often laughed in interviews reminiscing about how she created her first hit TV show while in bed with her laptop and pajamas. Since then, it’s earned a well-deserved spot in the Television Hall of Fame and numerous other awards, with an ever-growing list of groundbreaking new shows keeping us all entertained. This International Women’s Day, Mattel is launching a global Barbie campaign with a collection honoring female role models, including a one-of-a-kind Barbie of Shonda Rhimes as the leading woman in her industry represented from the United States.

In an interview, Rhimes says, “Dolls allow you to imagine yourself in a different way. Having a doll with a story is nothing new. But when that narrative is tied to a real-life story of girl power, self-belief, and realizing what’s possible, it can have a profound impact on a child.

So what does this really mean for girls who look like Rhimes?

Camp Mattel researchers found that “girls aged 5 to 10 are less likely to raise their hands for leadership positions, such as taking responsibility for a group activity, due to the perceived social backlash of volunteering for take on more responsibility.” But black girls have an added layer of discrimination to their experience because of racism. Those who are outspoken and assertive are often mislabeled as loud, disruptive or aggressive, and acts of systemic racism are an attempt to silence or keep them in their place. Confidence in a black woman is not a character trait historically praised or appreciated by white America. But Shonda Rhimes, in her own right, is a rebel against this system. And her power to embrace all that she is, including her immense talent for storytelling, is a model of resistance for black girls.


Inspiring Girls International, an organization that connects girls with female role models, has partnered with Barbie’s Dream Gap program for this launch, along with a global mix of female entrepreneurs, including makeup artist Pat McGrath representing the Kingdom Kingdom, All4Spas founder Adriana Azuara representing Mexico, and fashion designer Lan Yu representing China. A curated boutique showcasing businesses founded by women is another step in the campaign, and 5% of proceeds, through March 31, will go to Dream Gap. Mattel will match proceeds to further support their efforts to identify the barriers BIPOC girls face and partner with community groups working to address and end these issues.


And above all fun? Rhimes’ doll wears the Carolina Herrera outfit she wore on Variety magazine cover when she was selected as Show Woman of the Year. A feat in itself.

When Rhimes came on the scene, she changed the face of television. Her stories include a diverse cast of characters, and all have black women in some leadership roles. Her deliberate casting broke down many racial barriers, giving us a new look at seeing dark-skinned women show wit and artistry as they brilliantly show off their craft. They were still there, but Rhimes was the hand that pulled them forward when many of them were passed over for lighter-skinned actors.

This doll is an opportunity for the next generation to understand how her work normalizes not just female leaders, but black women being front and center without having to deny their blackness.

“It’s obvious to me that you can’t be what you can’t see. And if you don’t see anyone who looks like you, who looks like you, who does something like you, then you start to believe that you can’t do it either,” Rhimes said. And her doll will hopefully be a small step in positively revamping the visual for girls.

Understanding the impact representation can have on girls at such a young age is also understanding why this line from Rhimes is essential. Diversity and inclusion, which Rhimes openly champions, should be an everyday experience. And girls, regardless of race, should be able to freely imagine and continue to lead in any industry or path they choose.

Rebecca R. Santistevan