Introducing girls to role models in all fields – from engineering and technology to art and literature – is one of Barbie’s greatest callings. The brand’s Shero collection does just that, with over 20 one-of-a-kind dolls, including award winning athlete and snowboarding champion Chloe Kim, conservationist Bindi Irwin and more. Most recently, Barbie celebrated “Today Show” co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb as two of the latest Sheroes, inspiring girls to realize their limitless potential. The broadcast journalists were awarded the dolls in their likeness at the recent Glamour Women of the Year Summit, with actress Mindy Kaling interviewing them onstage on the topic of supporting girls.
We caught up with Samantha Barry, Glamour’s editor-in-chief, to ask her about the event, her thoughts about the importance of role models for women and girls, and how confidence and influential women helped her realize her own dreams.
Q: As you know, the Barbie Dream Gap Project is a global initiative to raise awareness around a recent study that shows that many girls, as early as age 5, stop believing they can be anything they want to be. Were you surprised by the study’s findings?
A: I was. I recently went back to my primary school in Ireland where the kids there go up to about the age of 11. I talked to them a bit about the dream gap. And I thought about how, here in America, when girls walk into elementary school, they see pictures of all of the men that have been president. But in Ireland, I grew up with a woman as president, Mary Robinson. Margaret Thatcher was the prime minister. I find the dream gap findings so fascinating, and honestly depressing. That at this moment in time, young girls stop believing in themselves. But adults are somewhat accountable, too – the study also revealed that parents are twice as likely to Google “Is my son gifted?” rather than “Is my daughter gifted?” That made me so sad. There’s so much accountability for us as grown-ups to change the dream gap.
Q: For decades, Glamour has been a powerful platform for introducing girls and women to inspiring role models. What are your thoughts on using female doll characters to start exposing girls early to accomplished women in all fields?
A: I love it. I love that young girls are being told that yes, there is a princess who is great and part of our popular culture. But if a girl looks at a doll that’s a scientist or an archeologist, or a news anchor, or a journalist, then that that becomes part of her vocabulary too. We had some of the Mattel [Barbie] dolls in our gift bags [at the Glamour Women of the Year Summit], and one of my friends, who is one of the bestselling authors in Ireland, got the paleontologist Barbie. She said, “Oh, I always wanted to be a paleontologist!” It’s not just Indiana Jones who can be a paleontologist, this Barbie can be a paleontologist, too. It is unexpected for Mattel to say, “Instead of creating only gender-specific toys or dolls, we’re just blowing it out of the water and including every career you can imagine; we’re going to highlight that with Barbie.” It is really nice. I do think that introducing role models starts with play. Young girls and boys can have dolls so that they grow up with a vocabulary of “she is a scientist.” Then it becomes the norm.
“I love that the Sheroes are at the top of their respective fields, but they also could be you or me, or I could be them.”
– Samantha Barry
Q: Did you have any role models growing up? If so, how did they influence your own path?
A: Definitely. I grew up watching a woman named Anne Doyle doing the six o’clock news every evening. She was the main anchor in Ireland. There was also an amazing investigative journalist called Veronica Guerin, who died tragically. They made a movie about her life; Cate Blanchett plays her. She was a real role model for me.
And I did love watching Mary Robinson as the president of Ireland. She was always a really impressive orator and would command a room, whether it was on an international or a national stage. She went on to do amazing work with the United Nations. She ruled with a kindness that you didn’t see in a lot of male politicians, let’s put it that way.
And then there were the women in my own life – especially my mother and my sister. My mom would help me build on the things that I’m good at, and overcome the things I was bad at. In school, for example, my handwriting was terrible, and my mother would sit with me for what felt like an eternity, every night, to help me practice. Now obviously writing is a useful part of my job! I also loved English in school, and that came from having a mother who was an avid reader. It was through books that she would bring all of sorts of smart female characters into our home.
Q: What do you think about creating Barbie dolls in the likeness of Savannah and Hoda? Did you have a chance to talk to them about the experience at this year’s Women of the Year Awards?
A: They were just so happy. There was so much joy! I loved it too because I’m a journalist and an editor. I watch Savannah and Hoda every morning on “The Today Show,” and one of the things that I admire about the two of them together is not only that they are the first women co-hosts in the 66-year history of the show and are breaking the mold. But as a team, both on air and in person, they lift each other up. Hoda and Savannah are so encouraging and supportive of one another.
Q: From your perch as editor-in-chief at Glamour, how do you shine a light on inspiring women? Is it a lens that is “always on” as you navigate the world?
A: Every day I think about how we can highlight the struggles of women and girls and make sure they get a voice. Whether that is helping somebody that’s known, like [fashion model and Shero] Ashley Graham, using her platform to talk more about body positivity and size inclusiveness, or finding those stories that you haven’t heard of before. For example, we honored Betty Reid Soskin, a 97-year-old park ranger who has been fighting her whole life, and particularly now in her later years, to make sure we remember African American women’s contributions to World War II.
As Glamour editors, empowering women and highlighting their stories drives us to come to work every day.
Q: A central theme in the conversation at the Glamour Women of the Year Summit was about confidence. How did you cultivate confidence in your life?
A: I think that confidence is in your voice, and confidence is conveyed by what you’re doing. Personally, I think that there are often times when young women, young girls and young men get imposter syndrome. You just have to drive through that and say, “I know what I’m doing, what I’m here to do, and what my job is today” – and not let anything hold you back.
I do a lot of public speaking now, and even to this day, I think I have to get over the first sentence or two, and then I’m okay. It’s also always good to have cheerleaders and some positive reinforcement, especially if you do falter in confidence. Peers or parents or friends can give you the boost you need.
Q: At the Glamour event, Mindy Kaling said that growing up she’d watch movies and television and there was no one who looked like her. Finally, she realized, “Why not me?” What were your thoughts about that statement?
A: I loved that. I think that “Why not me?” is a great rallying cry for young women. There are so many new opportunities in media and entertainment and science and every industry that young women should be saying, “Why not me? Why can’t I be the first person to build a house on the moon? Why can’t I?”
Q: How do you think the question “Why not me?” applies to Barbie Sheroes?
A: It absolutely applies. Look at the award winning fencer [and Barbie Shero] Ibtihaj Muhammad. She shows young girls that you can be any religion, you can excel in a sport that’s historically male. She actually wrote a piece for Glamour this year which was really, really popular. It was about how she suffers from anxiety before every tournament. You look at her and think, “This woman has won all these awards, and she suffers from anxiety?” We had so many readers reach out to us to say that hearing a famous athlete describe her own anxiety before she goes into a big tournament made them feel so much more comfortable with their experiences with anxiety.
When you think about the Sheroes, there’s something super authentic and accessible about them. Whether it’s Ashley Graham, who is breaking the barriers for body positivity, or Ibtihaj for athletes, or two famous television anchors. They’re huge, huge, huge accomplishments, but there’s something about the Sheroes that feels like they could also be your friend.
I love that the Sheroes are at the top of their respective fields, but they also could be you or me, or I could be them.