My Alter Egos = A pair of Vintage Barbies

Minx & Jinx are the hot new “beings” in my artistic palette: a series of witty vignettes featuring two vintage Barbie dolls and inspired by the efforts of Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, a forest ecologist who retrofitted Barbies almost two decades ago to match her academic expertise. She was unable to get any traction for her science-focused dolls until now.

“In 2003, I’d been thinking of ways to help get girls more interested in science, and I asked myself, ‘What do girls care about when they’re little?’ ” she recalled.

She looked to her young daughter.

“I knew that girls wanted to play with Barbies and look like Barbies,” Nadkarni said. “But what if Barbie had field clothes on and came with a little booklet about canopy plants?”

Mattel wasn’t interested in her idea (Nadkarni said she was told that a “treetop Barbie” wouldn’t sell), but she persisted.

She finally created her own treetop dolls, retrofitting Barbies bought at thrift stores with sturdy boots, helmets and climbing harnesses. Mattel agreed that she could produce the dolls on a small scale, and Nadkarni sold about 400 by request over 15 years through her website to friends, her students and others who had heard about her efforts to introduce girls to the science-themed dolls.

– From the 1/7/2020 washington post article by cathY free

Fast-forward to 2020, and Dr. Nadkarni finally got her own very special edition “treetop Barbie” created by Mattel in her image, honoring her role in creating (together with National Geographic) a new series of explorer dolls including an astrophysicist, a conservationist, an entomologist, a marine biologist and a nature photojournalist (!!!).

Source: Washington Post

“Nalini’s research interests are on: community and ecosystem ecology of tropical and temperate forest canopy organisms and interactions; the effects of forest fragmentation on biodiversity and community function; and the development of database tools for canopy researchers. Her long-term field sites are  in Monteverde, Costa Rica, and the Olympic rainforest, Washington State.”

-From Dr. Nadkarni’s Website

I heard about Dr. Nadkarni’s dolls through my membership in an email listserve of professional women who participated in a series of “Women Evolving Biological Science” (WEBS) workshops offered by the University of Washington and funded by the National Science Foundation. Dr. Nadkarni was a speaker and mentor at the workshop when I attended in 2004, and I remember her as an exceptionally warm, straight-talking, inspirational researcher who was teaching at Evergreen College in Oregon at the time. She has since moved to the University of Utah where she is a professor of biology.

I found Minx on eBay; Jinx on Mercari. Because they were created during different eras, their heads aren’t the same size – a problem I attempt to offset through careful posing and camera angle. They now have their own Minx & Jinx page on my website, and appear sporadically on Instagram whenever I’m inspired by recent events or a visit to a new location.

Minx & Jinx’ backstory is a work-in-progress. In the weeks and months to come they’ll be conducting research using their new (and very, very teeny-tiny) arsenal of laboratory supplies, field equipment, iPhones, laptops, and camping, scuba and snorkeling gear.

This pair of nerdy babes will continue to comment on today’s realities, as they parse the crazy times we are collectively living through.

Stay tuned.

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