I always thought about Barbie as a controversial symbol of unrealistic body standards for women. Yet the recent surge of Barbie’s popularity following the movie release has opened my eyes to the ways Barbie can inspire. I’ve been reflecting on her diverse range of careers. Barbie’s talents extend to singing, dancing, acting, playing musical instruments, excelling in professional sports and even thriving in the STEM field. She’s navigated low-paying jobs to ascend to self-sufficiency, all while battling crime and fires as a public servant, parachuting from planes as a paratrooper and successfully venturing into entrepreneurship. Impressively, she reportedly held an executive position a full nine years before any woman became a CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Beyond the glitz and smiles lies a more complex narrative. Barbie may also grapple with the challenges of making ends meet, adapting to a new culture and language as an immigrant, confronting mental health issues, persevering through physical obstacles and caring for her parents and extended family. Does this sound familiar? Armenian women have a history of shattering barriers and persist in achieving the extraordinary every day. They’ve excelled in the arts, business, medicine, science, engineering, politics, public service, transportation, education and sports. Many of their stories remain untold, but their presence is undeniable.
Let’s face it – Barbie could be Armenian.
She embodies resilience, ambition and intelligence. With her guiding mantra, “You can be anything,” she stands tall as a role model for young girls. The glass ceilings that persist in the United States can be shattered by the young Armenian girls of today, who will become the trailblazing women of tomorrow.
Join me in a forward-looking conversation as we envision a dialogue with Barbi Marsoobian, the first Armenian American woman to participate in the 2040 all-female spacewalk on Mars.
Barbie magazine, 1986
Me: Greetings and Parev Astronaut Barbi. My feet haven’t touched the ground since I learned we would be speaking. I can only imagine the exhilaration you felt when your entire body lifted off the Earth. It is 2040, and you have reached the summit for many young space enthusiasts, as well as an older generation like me who watched the first moon landing in black & white TV in 1969.
When I was growing up, girls played with baby dolls and were encouraged to be nurses or teachers. While these are honorable professions, many of us yearned for broader paths. Over the years, we championed the pursuit of diverse careers for both our sons and daughters, instilling the belief that the sky was the limit. Not everyone took this as literally as you did! How would you describe the worldview that shaped your upbringing?
Barbi: I came into this world in 2000 as the 21st century dawned. During that time, the percentage of girls in STEM fields was relatively modest. In 2008, when I was eight years old, I experienced a defining moment – the 25th anniversary of the first American woman’s voyage into space. We watched a video about it at school. The sheer coolness of that event struck me profoundly, and at that precise instant, I resolved to become a space explorer. The astronaut’s name, Sally Ride, was even cool to me. Little did I know then that I would actually “ride” on Sally Ride’s coattails, as the saying goes.
I wish I could claim that I played with the original, vintage Astronaut Barbie doll. Interestingly, the 1965 “Miss Astronaut” Barbie doll was issued four years before the first man on the moon and 18 years before the first American woman in space.
Me: What does being the first Armenian American in space mean to you?
Barbi: Strangely enough, it didn’t cross my mind until someone pointed it out. Despite being aware of the underrepresentation of Armenians and women in space, I never saw myself as a trailblazer in that sense. I’ll admit, I often struggled with not feeling “Armenian enough.” I’m half Armenian, a dropout from Armenian school, and I wasn’t immersed in the language. My paternal grandparents frequently recounted stories of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, but that seemed like a distant past to me. I lacked a connection until around 2023, during grad school, when I witnessed the generational trauma resurface as my grandparents observed the tragic recurrence of genocide affecting Armenians in Artsakh. The weight of this historical burden haunted me for years.
Much like how I saw myself in Sally Ride, I gradually began viewing myself as a trailblazer embodying all my identities, a role model for those who could relate to me. Recent decades have powerfully demonstrated that representation holds immense significance, extending beyond race and gender to encompass multifaceted identities – and indeed, Armenian identity matters.
Me: What guidance would you offer to the young Armenian girls and boys listening to this conversation?
Barbi: Visualize yourself as an onion, its layers gradually peeled away, or as a rose unveiling its depths. Envision the outermost layers, holding your different identities. Now, peel them back, layer by layer. If you have Armenian heritage, let that identity find a place among those layers. Even if it constitutes a small fraction, recognize its significance in preserving our heritage. If, like me, you need to peel back multiple layers to uncover your Armenian identity, that’s perfectly fine, as long as you eventually embrace it. For those who find their Armenian identity closer to the surface or just beneath it, extend patience to those who are still unraveling their layers. They haven’t yet forged that personal connection. Embrace them, demonstrate your pride and become role models for them.
Me: If you made a wish upon a star, what would it be?
Barbi: My heartfelt wish is for humanity to heed the pressing threat of global warming and acknowledge the fragility of our precious planet. But for the context of this conversation, and to keep it less complex, I’d wish for Mattel to recognize my identity and create a new doll named “Barbi – Armenian Astronaut,” with the headline, “Armenian Woman – First Human to Set Foot on Mars.”