Sunday, March 8, 2009

Barbie is Fifty

Barbie turned fifty recently.


There are some pretty excellent articles about her on , including some celebrity commentary on what Barbie means to them.

Barbie manufacturers Mattel are celebrating her birthday all year - but there isn't a lot to celebrate lately. Sales are slipping dramatically, as she's come up against the Disney powerhouses of Hanna Montana, a younger, more innocent role model, and High School Musical, whose dolls are also 11" tall and wildly popular. One win for Barbie this year is the court ruling that Bratz dolls were conceived whilst their creator was employed by Mattel, and therefore Barbie now owns Bratz. What she intends to do with this ownership remains to be seen.

But fear not - Barbie has been through it all. If three lost presidential campaigns, a breakup of her 43-year long relationship with Ken, and constant wearing of 4" stilettos haven't broken her spirit, a little slip in popularity shouldn't hurt a bit.

There are upsides. Her popular webpresence is going to be dramatically improved, and already has 18 million registered users, and she's got a new partnership with Mac cosmetics.


She made her first appearance at New York Fashion Week - with fifty well known designers creating her outfits, and is opening her first flagship store in Shanghai, China. All exciting news for this old broad.

It's not the only part of her image she's revamping. Check out this recent incarnation with pink docs and an eco-conscious teeshirt message:


Barbie has taken a lot of flack over the years. People have criticized her looks, her figure and her apparent sexuality. But if this doll, which was created to fufill the desire of a demographic, was inappropriate, why do young girls love her so much? Did her creator really create a need, or just fill one? 90% of young girls own one, and most girls I knew loved Barbie through and through. I don't buy into the baloney that she is responsible for eating disorders. I think eating disorders are caused by something else altogether. But that's another post.

Boys like to play with guns - and will use sticks or their fingers to imitate guns if they do not have actual plastic guns to play with. Before Barbie, young girls had baby dolls, and could practice mothering, but only had paper dolls with which to practice being adult. As any woman will tell you, much of their childhood play experience with other girls centred on the concept of being grown up. Experimenting with fashion, makeup and most memorably, sex. Sure, Barbie looks a bit like a blow up doll - but if you are using her to practice making out with Ken, isn't that an appropriate look for her to have?

The real question is, what is so wrong with a young girl experimenting with her sexuality via a plastic doll? Is this not a healthy form of expression? I think it is - I think it's not only healthy but important. I wonder who I would be had I never had a Barbie - she was that important to me. She was a role model - she told me I could do and be anything. I could be an astronaut or a fashion designer, and be hot doing it either way. She could have lesbian trysts or threesomes without fear or repurcussion. Ah, the freedom of being plastic. She allowed me to escape the tragedy of childhood - that deep desire to be a grownup and have the world at my feet - a little bit earlier.

Happy Birthday Barbie, and thanks for everything.

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