Ecologist Helps Create Science-Inspired Line Of Barbie Dolls
She pitched the idea years ago - now it's finally catching on.
When Nalini Nadkarni was a young girl, she didn't really play with dolls, instead she hung out in trees in her front yard in Bethesda, MD.
“It was kind of my place. I felt safe there — I felt it was just a place where I belonged," she told Deseret News .
It only made sense that Nadkarni would grow up and became an ecologist – a field she's been a part of for 30 years. Now she spends her days climbing trees in forest canopies to study plants that survive in different ecosystems.
Over the years, Nadkarni has made it her mission to inspire people of all ages to care more about the environment, and to encourage others to consider a career in the sciences.
She's most excited about getting urban youth to care about the environment. She's hired rappers to write verses about science, she's taught classes about conservation to prison inmates – she even came up with a “Treetop Barbie" using thrift shop finds to make clothes and accessories that scientists would use.
The inspiration for the Barbie came from her love of climbing trees as a child. She wanted to bring that experience to girls in cities (or other places) where aren't many trees around. She thought the doll was a perfect way to make the connection.
“Then maybe those little girls who love and aspire to be Barbie, would also say, 'Oh, maybe I can also aspire to be a scientist or an adventurer, or to make new discoveries, or to take risks,'" she said.
While Mattel didn't pick up on Nadkarni's idea right away, National Geographic reached out to her a few years ago to help them develop a new line of “Explorer" Barbie dolls, which includes an astrophysicist, a conservationist, an entomologist, a marine biologist and a nature photojournalist.
She gave advice on what careers might work, and the clothing and types of accessories the dolls should wear. Nadkarni didn't get paid for her work on the project, but she did get a doll made in her likeness as a thank you gift – it even included a “wet notebook," just like the one Nadkarni uses to take notes with in the rainforest.
She says since the line of dolls has been released, girls from all over the country have reached out to thank her for her work and wanting to know how they could get involved and help save the forests.
“When I started hearing from these young kids, I realized they had a true sense of the dire straits of our forests," she said. “They really care, and they want us grown-ups to do something to save our environment. It gives me hope for the future that girls — and boys — as young as 7 and 8 want to do what they can to help."
While she says the dolls aren't perfect (they are made of plastic after all, which is filling landfills at an alarming rate), Nadkarni definitely thinks they're a step in the right direction.
“I think it's a really hopeful time, that if Mattel can now make explorer Barbies and sell them in Kmart and Walmart and Toys R Us, to me that's a big, strong, fat message that's really positive," she said.
The Mattel dolls are available for purchase on the National Geographic website, and through most major retailers like WalMart and Target.