Barbie as a role model

Some days ago I waited for a traffic light in the center of Utrecht and suddenly looked into the eyes of a Barbie doll sitting on top of the light. She held one arm out and a sign below her said ‘Which way are you going?’

I should have understood the doll meant that quite literally but I thought she wanted me to think about my life…

Barbie doll on top of traffic light
"Which way are you going?" asks this Barbie doll on top of a bicycle traffic light in Utrecht (Netherlands)

Other people saw her too. No wonder. She and 9 other dolls were sitting on traffic lights around the busiest junction of Utrecht. Over 22,000 cyclists can have seen her there. Every day!

A colleague tweeted about her and asked what this was for. So did the Utrecht chapter of the Cyclists’ Union. Some days later the mystery was solved.

As it turns out, one of those many cyclists had a message for the others: Please indicate where you are going!

Marije de Wit, aged 25, is an artist and computer games designer and she cycles a lot here. On her blog she explains:

“That junction is always such a chaos. It struck me that many people forget to signal when they are going left or right. Annoying and it also leads to people riding against each other. They teach you to do it right in primary school but over the years you get sloppy. I too forget sometimes.

But to point out mistakes to people, that usually doesn’t work well. That’s why I wanted to help people remember in a friendly and fun way that they should indicate where they’re going. And so I placed 10 Barbie dolls sticking out their arm in the night of the 25th and 26th March 2012.

Why Barbie?

Quite frankly I needed something with an arm! Something friendly that we all know. And she has the right size. Big enough to be noticed and small enough to not be in the way. When I got back to take pictures in daylight a reporter of the local newspaper asked me if I knew more about this. She had tried to find out who did this all day. It got me an interview and a picture and I appeared on the front page of the local newspaper.

What’s the use?

I really like that very different people tell me they liked the initiative and that they indeed did indicate where they were going right after they saw the Barbie dolls, because it made them think about it.

Of course I know it doesn’t work like that for everybody, but I am already very happy that it got so many people smiling!”

Barbie dolls on Utrecht cycle traffic lights
"Show which way u go" and "Think of the one behind you" say these Barbie dolls intended to get cyclists to indicate which way they're going.

In the paper Marije says she was surprised that many of the dolls – they had cost her less than 2 euros each – survived even the first two days. But more than two weeks later there are still some surviving dolls. “I do remove the damaged ones, some lost their heads quite soon, but I hadn’t expected them to survive this long at all.”

Barbie dolls on Utrecht cycle traffic lights
"Think of the one behind you" and "Show which way you go" say these Barbie dolls in Utrecht to get people on their bikes to indicate where they are going.

The newspaper quotes many positive reactions and other media picked it up too. Encouraging others to follow Marije’s example of telling people to behave more courteous in traffic in such a friendly way. Apparently Marije struck just the right chord with her actions.

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