Barbie is 52 today. She’s no spring chicken, as my great-grandmother would likely say. Nevertheless, the 11.5 inch cultural icon has weathered well, having been recognized as one of Mattel’s best-selling toys for decades—some estimates indicating that more than a billion dolls (three every second) have been sold worldwide. That said, Barbie made her grand debut on this day in 1959 at the American International Toy Fair in New York—wearing her signature ponytail (available in blonde or brunette) and a racy, zebra-inspired swimsuit. Clearly, she was a rebel before her time—one responsible for fueling not only imagination and independence among little girls everywhere, but for spawning a wealth of controversy and lawsuits as well.
Barbie had rather prominent breasts after all, wore a demure sideways glance originally and promoted an unrealistic body image—one that would correspond to a 5’ 9” woman with a 36-inch bosom, an 18-inch waist (gasp!) and 33-inch hips. Her perfectly painted-on smile and shapely legs simply added to the concerns raised by many (i.e. since she was viewed as a role model, young girls would perhaps become anorexic in an attempt to emulate her impossibly slender physique). Stirring further discontent, “Barbie Baby-Sits” (1963) and the “Slumber Party” ensemble (1965) came with a book entitled How to Lose Weight which dispensed advice such as “Don’t eat.” Eventually, in 1997 the toy giant addressed the aforementioned criticisms by outfitting Barbie with a wider, more contemporary, waistline—but nary an ungainly, flat-chested, bucktoothed Barbie will you find anywhere, my dear Mattel.
Despite it all, we’re still crazy for Barbie in all her buxom career-minded glory—both conventional (think: nurse) and infinitely obscure (think: paratrooper). And let us not forget her endearing gaggle of plastic companions, the glut of branded whateverness spilling from store shelves hither and yon and the pretty pink houses without which Barbie enthusiasts would surely wither and die.
I mean who can be properly amused by said lithesome beauties (upon which a shock of hair-like matter seemingly “grows”) without the requisite 67 pairs of stilettos, 43 hats and a wardrobe whose mix ‘n match permutation potential is decidedly incalculable? Never mind pink cars. And pink boats. And swimming pools perfectly imbued with pink rafts. Just for fun, sometime I’d like to amass (into a hideous heap!) all the Barbie-related foolishness with which my daughters have been blessed over the years. I’m quite certain it would be an impressive and distinctly pink pile; however I doubt it would change the spending habits in this house-turned-shrine-to-all-things-Barbie.
Besides, a great portion of the aforementioned huddled masses with whom Thing One and Thing Two routinely play fall under the category of recycled, having entertained their big sister more than a decade ago. And as luck would have it, some were graciously bestowed upon my progenies as gifts. It’s rumored that a handful of the dolls were even mine, although I had great difficulty convincing a certain couple of somebodies that that was even possible. (i.e. “Did they even MAKE Barbie dolls back then, Mom?”)
That said, it’s not as if we’ve had to shell out a ton of cash to acquire the legions of plastic wonders we now own, which, I suppose, makes the whole we-have-too-many-damned-dolls thing seem somewhat tolerable. Nor do we possess Barbie Video Girl, Totally Tattoos Barbie or Teen Talk Barbie—which gladdens my heart more than words can adequately express.
Oddly enough, though, my charges aren’t overly interested in the bells and whistles so many of today’s dolls feature. Nor do they give a hoot about what their beloved Barbies wear or whether or not their bizarrely angled feet happen to have shoes, let alone ones that match. Forget what the avid collectors may opine. Mint condition means nothing to my brood. If anything, it is the doll with unkempt hair to which they are drawn—or the one whose unruly mane was hacked off with scissors when they were four, or the blondie with missing face paint, now sporting a deficient, yet endearing little smile, or the one with chipped plastic and mottled skin, having been abandoned in the garage (or a snowbank) for months. Curiously, it’s as if their dilapidated qualities add charm and character beyond measure.
Furthermore, Thing One and Thing Two are fairly enthralled with the dismembered populace of our sprawling Barbie community. Apparently, it matters not that they possess an intact set of limbs (or a head for that matter). “They’re still fun to play with, Mom—even without heads.” Translation: My children are disturbingly droll and I am doomed to forever share my home with their dear playthings.
Planet Mom: It’s where I live (with an obscene quantity of Barbie dolls).
Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel