The movie Barbie tells women, “You can be anything”. But Debbie Friedner and her Barbies help people believe it.
Friedner, 68, is a career counsellor with Camden County’s One Stop Resource Center in New Jersey, the United States. For the past nearly 29 years, she has helped unemployed Camden County residents figure out what they want to do and how to get there.
The Cherry Hill resident has been a long-time Barbie fan but the doll’s 60th anniversary in 2019 rekindled Friedner’s passion for Barbie, who was no longer just the fashionista doll of her childhood.
“Never before had I seen so many (Barbies) marked with a specific job title, with the box displaying the slogan, ‘You Can Be Anything’,” Friedner said. “I just thought that they were so relevant to what I do that buying only career Barbies started to become an obsession.”
Friedner now has 56 career Barbies in their original boxes, and she’s always on the lookout for a new addition.
“The fun is in the find.”
Her Barbie collection includes dolls of different body types and is multi-racial. They’re all stacked atop the walls of her office cubicle – everything from President Barbie to astronaut to nurse to polar explorer, and historic figure Barbies.
Her favourite is probably her Helen Keller Barbie. Friedner has had hearing challenges since she was a child, so Keller has long been an inspiration.Above all this on the wall are the magic words to live by: You Can Be Anything.
It’s not that any of the people Friedner helps have ever pointed to a career Barbie and said they wanted to do that profession, she said. What the Barbies have done is give a much-needed lift to people, especially women, whose stories feel overburdened by defeats.
“When they come to us, they’ve gone through something,” Friedner said. “They’ve gone through a job loss. They’ve been laid off from their job. Or maybe they had a medical problem, and they can’t do that job anymore. So they’re thinking about the next move, but at the same time, they’re dealing with the emotional impact of that.”
The vast array of Barbies has the effect of raising downcast gazes as well as spirits.
“Anybody that sees my collection can’t help but be inspired,” Friedner said.
The original Barbie came out when she was four.
“My sister and I mutilated her,” Friedner said, sounding a bit gleeful. “We made earrings out of pins. We took crayons, and we made make-up.”
She does understand the later objections to Barbie’s perfection and impact that could have had on impressionable young minds.
But Friedner said she never noticed. In the end, she got a Master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation and her sister, Ronee Korbin Steiner is a judge in Arizona, so they both turned out okay.
And Barbie evolved. Friedner said she gave her daughter, Sarina Russomano, Barbies, including a graduation Barbie in honor of her commencement from Pace University.
She’s also bought Barbies for Sarina’s daughter, Juliet, aged six, one of her 12 grandchildren. Juliet’s Barbie has horses to ride. Friedner noted there are also Barbie food trucks, Barbie campers, and cars. Like young women now, today Barbie has choices.
Friedner hasn’t seen the Barbie movie yet, but she’s looking forward to it. She also intends on adding to her career Barbie collection so the doll can keep bringing a smile and maybe some inspiration to someone who needs it.
“Barbie over the years,” said Friedner, “has become more and more relevant”.