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Girl Scout Barbie sparks debate on role models, commercialization

Thursday - 7/24/2014, 9:07am  ET

Some parents and critics are questioning Mattel's newest Barbie: Girl Scout Barbie. Is the Girl Scout image too wholesome for a doll that graced the cover of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit issue? (AP Photos)

WASHINGTON -- This week, cheerleader Barbie, business Barbie and bride Barbie welcomed a new friend to the group. Only, this Barbie comes with cookies -- well, not real ones.

Girl Scout Barbie has hit the shelves -- along with her high-heel hiking boots, pink pants and green sash -- almost a year after Girl Scouts of the USA and toy maker Mattel announced a three-year, $2 million partnership.

The plastic, hourglass-shaped dolls may have welcomed Girl Scout Barbie to the shelves, but her arrival ushered in a wave of backlash from critics who question Barbie's place as a role model for young girls (she was recently on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue) and the commercialization of a 102-year-old organization.

"[Barbie's] not about what the Girl Scouts' principles are, which have to do with leadership and courage," Susan Linn, executive director for Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, told The Today Show.

Girl Scout Barbie hit shelves this week and is out of stock at many retail locations.

The Girls Scouts, however, stand by the decision to partner with Barbie. The organization even created a "Be Anything, Do Everything" Girl Scout patch to encourage girls to explore different career options -- just like Barbie. (She has more than 135.)

Business woman, author and parenting commentator Leslie Morgan Steiner says the debate over the new Girl Scout Barbie is not a frivolous one; it's one of great substance.

"It gets at the core of what it means to be a girl or a woman in America," says Steiner, author of "Crazy Love," "Mommy Wars" and "The Baby Chase."

Steiner says a Girl Scout represents someone who is hard-working, independent and responsible; she's a team player. Barbie, on the other hand, stands for sexy and voluptuous; she's someone who is interested in stilettos and looking great.

"I think we have this dichotomy in this country where we tell women and girls they can't be both," Steiner says. "But you can be both. And it's very important to raise girls to say, ‘Those are two different parts of you, and that you can be attractive and sexy and feel great about your body and be a hard-working, ethical, team-playing Girl Scout.'"

Steiner says like it or not, Barbie represents something many women share.

"We like to kind of trash Barbie, but the truth is that girls really love Barbie," she says. "Almost every woman out there does enjoy feeling feminine and attractive; and there's nothing wrong with that."

When it comes to the commercialization aspect of the debate, Steiner understands the critics' concerns.

"Many people, especially those of us who were Girl Scouts or Brownies as little girls, we feel like it is something very pure and innocent and that it shouldn't be commercialized," she says, adding that the mix of commercialization and childhood is often a difficult idea for parents to accept.

Instead of quickly forming opinions and debating the doll, Steiner says, parents should ask young girls what they think.

"Parents have taken over childhood, and we tell our kids what to think and feel, and maybe we should take a step back and let them be in charge of their own childhoods," she says. "I remember all the Barbies that I had as a little girl, and I loved them. I saw them as a good part of being a woman."

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Correction: The original copy said Barbie was on last year's cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. She was on the cover in February 2014.

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