A Brief History
On February 12, 2004, toy producer Mattel announced that the iconic American doll Barbie had called it quits with her longtime boyfriend Ken!
Digging deeper, we find a country (or world) of ‘tween and teenaged girls shocked to find Barbara Millicent Roberts (Barbie) ending her 42-year relationship with Ken Carson in order to pursue Blaine, an Australian surfer. (She thought he was a real doll!)
The Barbie craze started just about immediately in 1959 when she was introduced as an 11 ½-inch blond or brunette bombshell of a doll. One main attraction of the Barbie doll was the many outfits, houses, cars and other accoutrements that parents could buy. An incredible array of accessories meant that Barbie could partake in any one of a number of occupations or activities, with clothes to match. She also had friends and relatives. One version of Barbie even featured numerous removable tattoos that could be moved around, including a “tramp stamp!”
Obviously, a hot babe like this (proportionately 5’9” with a 36” chest, an 18” waist and 33” hips) needed some attention, and in 1961, Mattel introduced Ken as Barbie’s beau. For the next 4 decades, things between the two dolls were fairy-tale idyllic, until Blaine the Australian surfer showed up in 2004! Even though Mattel had widened Barbie’s waist in 1997 due to massive pressure from real-life women (who could not hope to match the doll’s previous measurements), she apparently still “had it!” As fate would have it, however, Barbie saw the error of her ways and got back together with Ken in 2006.
Not everybody in the world is so impressed or so in love with Barbie, and in some Islamic countries she is forbidden! Mothers concerned about the self image of their daughters have frequently complained about the unrealistic body shape of the doll. “Barbie Syndrome” describes a condition where girls try as hard as they can to look like Barbie.
With parodies like “Barbie Crystal Meth Lab” (Jay Leno), “Gangsta Bitch Barbie and Tupac Ken” (Saturday Night Live), comedians and comedy shows have made fun of Barbie. Music acts such as Greenpeace and Aqua have sung about Barbie, and Barbie has also been painted by Andy Warhol. A character in television commercials and cartoons as well, she appropriately appeared in the films Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3.
Some of the more bizarre Barbie stories include her being portrayed as “Dungeon Barbie” by German-born artist Susanne Pitt, and in 1993, the “Barbie Liberation Organization” took doll terrorism to a new and disturbing level by buying up talking versions of Barbie dolls and replacing the voice recording with those of GI Joe soldier dolls and then returning the dolls to the store from where they were resold!
Mattel created African-American versions of Barbie (“Black Barbie”) and her friends by simply producing the dolls in the exact same way but with dark skin.
Barbie dolls have also been very collectible and remain a sought-after commodity on the collector circuit. Valuable examples can sometimes be found at garage sales or donated in poor boxes or even in the trash!
The final bizarre part of the Barbie saga is the involvement by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)! It seems that “Barbie Video Girl,” who a tiny camera in her that could record 30 minutes of video, was feared to make child porn easy to acquire, so field agents were duly warned!
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever owned a Barbie doll? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please read…
Stone, Tanya Lee. The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll’s History and Her Impact on Us. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2010.