SOPHIA - 27
The world’s most popular doll is Barbie. She now is sold in more than
150 countries and generates more than $2 billion in sales. But
is she just a doll with a voluptuous figure, or much more than that?
Currently, the world thinks of America as being a bunch of GI-Joe dolls, but
how many realize we are really a nation of Barbie dolls? If you
haven’t looked at the strength of Barbie’s character, or her positive force
in shaping the confidence and independence of young women around the globe,
maybe you should join G-Ma Lori in a deep look into Barbie’s impact on her
granddaughter, her older daughter and on the young women of the world.)
you’re such an awesome gift-giver and I know you shop year-round just like
GaGa did. But, mom, I want to ask a big favor. When you’re out and about
and see an ‘object of a grandmother’s desire to give her granddaughter’….
please, mom, be somewhat selective.”
My daughter’s sweet nature caused her
shiny chocolate eyes to cloud over like whirling Kansas dust darkening a
brilliant morning sky. She didn’t want to offend me. She turned to face me,
reaching out gently to touch my arm like I was the child and she, the
“What’s up, Anna-Banana”? I smiled using one of her
favorite childhood monikers.
daughter preferred her daughter to play with paper dolls as she did,
“Well…I just can’t bear the thought my
little Sarah will waste her time playing with Barbie dolls. You know how I
feel about the false image of girls and women they portray. I don’t want my
sweet princess to grow up obsessed with big breasts, a tiny waist and
frau-frau clothes. If she’s going to play dolls at all, I’d prefer her to
play mommy with little baby dolls.
Frankly, I was more than prepared for
her request and her comments. However, I just didn’t expect them on the day
after she gave birth to her daughter and my granddaughter.
Sarah’s mother didn’t play with dolls that much when
she was little. As I recall, she did like paper dolls and spent many hours
cutting out the clothes and putting them on her cardboard ‘dollies’. Her
paper dolls didn’t have shapely bodies or suggestive clothes like those of
the Barbie dolls. Sarah’s aunt—our younger daughter--did play Barbies but
preferred playing with Barbie’s car, townhouse and her other possessions.
She too was seemingly unimpressed with Barbie’s figure and clothes. Then,
too, Barbie wasn’t ‘in your face’ as she is today with television marketing
and store displays.
“Hey, New Mommy,” I said to my concerned daughter,
“I’m not planning to inundate your precious girl-child with ‘fake’ dolls. I
know your thoughts on ‘bimbo-Barbies’ and that you believe they instill an
unhealthy attitude of women in the young girls who play with them.”
Laughing, I hugged my ‘new-mommy-daughter’.
I honored my agreement with my older daughter - at least until
the ‘Please, No Barbie!’ contract was broken by another family member.
I was neither the first nor the only
family member to give precious Sarah a Barbie Doll. And I imagine I will
not be the last.
Approximately three years after the No-Barbie-Please
request from Sarah’s mom, a Barbie ‘doll’ was given to Sarah followed by
other similarly bosomed dolls that graced her toy bins. They delighted her.
Yankee Barbie was
the first Barbie Doll I gave Sarah
Yankee Barbie was the first Barbie Doll Sarah received from me, her G-Ma. I
figured since she was bound to eventually receive at least a few Barbies
that one in baseball disguise would slide in unnoticed. After all, the
entire family is composed of Yankee fans. The accurate Yankee uniform
almost hid Barbie Yankee’s shape and her hair was styled in simple braids.
I thought she was beautiful reminding me of my own two
ballplayer-daughters. Frankly, I was a bit miffed when Sarah took her out
of her collector box, stripped her of her blue and white pinstripes and
dressed her in the ‘other’ Barbie outfits.
I gave Sarah a
Gymnast Barbie primarily because Sarah is a Gymnast herself
After Sarah’s mommy yelped surrender to her No Barbie plea, I selected a
Tinker Bell Barbie followed by a Gymnast Barbie. To date Sarah is thrilled
with her growing Barbie collection. She adores each and has an Indian
Princess in a sari, Cinderella Barbie and Prince Charming, a Ken doll, a
mommy Barbie and several copycat dolls with long legs, slim waists and ample
“G-Ma, I hate it when Sarah plays
with her frau-frau Barbies. There‘s no fun in putting on their funny
looking clothes and taking them off again. It’s b-o-o-o-o-ring. Her dolls
don’t do anything. I won’t play with them.” Matt, two years older than his
five-year-old sister, crawled out from behind the bunk bed and shook his
bed-head hair like a wriggling puppy emerging from a ground hole.
Matt was engrossed
in playing Yu-gi-oh
Right now Matt is in to Yu-gi-oh trading cards and his Lego sets. He isn’t
about to be cajoled into playing with Sarah’s Barbies even with their
horses, castle and a flashy purple convertible.
To keep the peace within their
small apartment, the kids play together along with their twenty-month-old
bro Angus who demands on joining in. Proximity forces cooperation.
“Matt, some of the Barbies aren’t merely
clothes racks,” I said. “They have careers. It’s fun to imagine
their exciting lives. There are Barbie computers
and did you know there is a Doctor Barbie? And even
more exciting, there is a new Secret Agent Barbie. You and Sarah can
play Hardy Boys and Secret Agent Barbie. How about that?” I knew this
was dangling a mouse in front of a hungry cat. Playing spy games is
right up Matt’s alley.
If Sarah played Spy
Barbie, Matt would join in
“Well, okay, G-Ma. I’ll
play spy Barbie with Sarah. But, I’m not going to change her clothes. I’ll
make her Ken doll Frank or Joe Hardy. Let’s go Sarah. I get to be the
chief spy.” Matt took Ken out of Sarah’s outstretched hands and didn’t
notice me winking at his giggling sister.
“M-A-A” Angus blared while directing me with his pointed finger to
sit down with him and the Barbie he selected. Matt and Sarah laughed as
their little brother roared out “Maa” like a feisty lion cub calling for his
mother and swiping at her with a playful paw. We all played with the
Barbies for the rest of the afternoon.
As we played, I let my mind drift into Barbie Land.
I recall Sarah and I, accompanied by, Matt, ‘window shopping’ at
Toys R Us in Times Square, and billed as the World’s Biggest Toy Store. It
might be at that, since it has a huge Ferris wheel inside and giant
computerized T-Rex. And, a city block of Barbies.
"Ohhh, G-Ma, look at
the Teacher Barbie"
“Oh, G-Ma, look
at all the Barbies…there’s Cinderella, Rapunzel…a Barbie mommy with twin
babies…. Barbie’s family… Ohhhh…. a bicycle Barbie, a surfing Barbie, a
Teacher Barbie………………..and even a pregnant Barbie named Rika.”
“Can we get one today, G-Ma? Can we? Oh, please,
G-Ma.” Sarah’s eyes like those of her mother were glisteningly chocolate
brown. For a moment I thought I was hearing my daughter, not my
granddaughter beseeching me…but it wouldn’t have been for a Barbie Doll.
The subject matter brought me back to the present.
As a dutiful mother honoring a daughter’s
wishes, I had inured myself not to succumb to the pleadings or wishes of my
grandkids and purchase whatever they begged for. My husband followed suit.
And so, I forced myself to not listen to her
requests…. Or her oooohs and ahhhhhs. Sarah agreeably continued to just
look and there was a treasure trove of different Barbies to look at. The
store’s House of Barbie was a great hall of fantasy for any child. It was
painted pink and stood three stories tall right in the middle of Toys ‘R Us.
At Barbie World at
I didn’t take umbrage
with my daughter’s
anti-Barbie stance at the time she first broached her feelings. She
seemed oblivious to her own statuesque beauty and wore little or no makeup.
Even in high school she wasn’t that interested in clothes. She always
Voiced her disgust at the stress on makeup and clothes and nice figures for
girls and women. So I wasn’t surprised at her anti-Barbie stance and
her wish for her daughter to not be taken in by all the falderal and fakery
hinted at in Barbie World.
But, for the other mommies in the world, should they be as hyper
Vigilant as my daughter? And, now that my daughter was relaxing her ‘No
Barbies’ stance, maybe it was time I got to know more about Barbie. I
began to ask those Big Questions: Who is Barbie? Where did she come from?
I decided to go to my favorite search engine and Google Barbie history.
The creators of
Barbie, Ruth and Elliott Handler
Here’s what I found.
Ruth Handler whose own daughter was named Barbara invented the Barbie doll
in 1959. In 1957 while visiting Germany, Ruth Handler purchased a Lilli
Doll. The dolls were based on a cartoon strip in Das Bild. In the comic
strip, Lilli was portrayed as a sultry, sexual character aimed at attracting
men. This was the complete opposite of the ideals Ms. Handler wanted the
doll to represent. With a few changes to the heavy make-up, full lips and
slight alterations, Barbie was created. She kept a woman’s figure.
Ruth and her
husband, Elliott, founders of Mattel Toys, introduced Barbie to the world at
the American Toy Fair in New York City in February 1959. The doll was
intended to be a teenage fashion doll.
I located several sites indicating there has been a bit of
controversy over the years over Barbie’s voluptuous figure. If Barbie were
a real person her measurements of 39-18-33 would be undeniably unattainable
without plastic surgery or strenuous exercise and dieting. Today she's had
over 500 makeovers yet her basic design remains constant. She
regularly adapts to changing times and continually reinvents herself.
She remains optimistic and idealistic.
Barbie is the most famous name in doll collecting. All little
girls love to dress up. There are a greater
percentage of these than those with eating disorders trying to have a body
Barbie and her copies represent the only adult looking dolls most
children have. Almost every other doll made for little girls is a baby doll,
variously accessorized with a bottle of milk to 'drink' from, a set of bibs
and diapers that the child can change from time to time, or a button in its
stomach that goes 'Ma-ma' when pressed or one with a hole in it to let out
the tubby water simulating going potty.
All little girls
enjoy playing dress up
I remember dressing up in my mother’s long formals and I recall
Sarah’s Auntie “E” and her friends enjoying my old high school formals.
Little girls like nothing better than imitating their mothers,
whether it is strutting around in their high heels or raiding
their dressing tables and jewelry boxes.
At present, Sarah’s mother’s wardrobe doesn’t consist of many fancy
dresses since she’s given away all her formalwear to more room in her and
her husband’s apartment for their three children, but Sarah’s Barbies have
several lovely gowns.
from housewife ...
Barbie is a
bonus for the imagination of little girls. She can go where baby dolls
cannot! She is not confined to a baby bed, highchair, stroller or being
carried by ‘mommy’. She can climb mountains, play soccer, and play
baseball, model, dance, sing and more. Through her a girl and her little
friends can realize secret fantasies and wild adventures e.g. Astronaut
Barbie in 1986, Dr. Barbie in 1988 and from a housewife to a stewardess to a
the time when women were moving into the work force all over the country in
every kind of career demanding equality, Barbie grew along with them.
Barbie helps make the workplace more enchanting for little girls. She
reflects many of the options available to women of today.
As our country became more multicultural, so did Barbie. Mattel came
out with the same Barbie with different skin tones.
Barbie has always been an easy scapegoat for feminists. Many mothers
see Barbie as a negative influence; not wanting to teach their daughter that
they have to be blonde and beautiful to get a boyfriend or a career. Some
women do not allow Barbie's into their homes. (Several weeks ago I read
that Barbie dolls have been banned in Saudi Arabia. The country’s Committee
for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice cited the dolls
‘revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools’ as a
‘symbol of decadence of the perverted West.)
From the beginning, Barbie was a trend
setting figure. Historically, Barbie went “mod” in the sixties. Older
girls still played with Barbie and started collecting them and displaying
In 1976, Barbie was awarded a place in "America's Time Capsule" at
the nation's bicentennial celebration, embossing her in our country's
history. In her Betsy Ross dress with lace trim, Barbie proved she could
uphold an image amidst troubled times; she had survived the critics and
evolved into an icon of American culture.
For the "Barbie
Summit" in New York City in 1990
In 1990 Mattel
demonstrated Barbie cared about more important world issues. Thirty-nine
children from around the world met to discuss world hunger, environmental
degradation, and war and peace as they joined for the "Barbie Summit" in New
York City. This children's version of the United Nations showed the country
and the world that Barbie was still dedicated to breaking cultural and
ethnic boundaries. Her life did not revolve around superficiality as her
shopping sprees and fascinating fashions may suggest. The "Barbie Summit"
doll as well as the “UNICEF” Barbie has benefited important children's
In November 2002 a Barbie was placed in a second time capsule along
with 59 other items having an impact on Women’s Health in the past century
to be unearthed in 2100. She already was confirmed as an American cultural
icon in 1993 when she entered a Paris wax museum.
Barbie has benefited
important children's causes
‘Googling’ I found that Mattel’s effective advertising, promotion, and
merchandising has infiltrated Barbie into 150 countries by 1999. Approximately
one billion Barbies have been sold during the four decades since her launch.
Global Barbie sales reached one billion dollars in 1993 and reached two
billion dollars in 1999. The average number of dolls per household in the sixties
was one, in the nineties the average American girl, three to ten years old,
owns eight. A prime reason Barbie has survived is because she is so
accessible. Even children in the poorest countries can afford a Barbie; her
world has transcended all socioeconomic boundaries.
Barbie has captured the hearts of
young girls and the wallets of mothers everywhere. As long as Mattel
continues to absorb current attitudes and feelings and apply them to Barbie,
she will be an integral part of girls' lifestyles, both young and old. She
is the endlessly successful brand, the "toy world's version of
Barbie’s evolution into multiculturalism has been fluid through
time because Mattel has captured necessary generational differences.
Vigilantly, the Barbie team has taken every criticism in stride and
transformed challenges into opportunities; Mattel has taken the right
actions and responded to the marketplace in hopes of shaping it. And when it
comes down to it, despite a few dresses that fit too tightly or blouses that
don’t quite cover her chest and upset some mothers and fathers, Mattel has
made an All-American doll and given her to the world. I felt good playing
Barbies with the grandkids.
“G-Ma, let’s play Barbies” is a frequent request when I’m taking
care of Sarah.
“Ohhh…..no, no Angus, give that back. That is too small
for you to play with. Augghhhhhhh!!! G-Ma, get that Barbie shoe back from
him. He can’t play Barbies with us. He just can’t! G-Ma………..”
It’s difficult whenever little Angus wants to play
Barbies. But I’ve enjoyed watching him play – well try to play and
witnessed that good motor skills are required to dress the doll. Learning
wise, conversational skills are utilized, and Barbie’s world feeds
animation, imagination, and creativity. Some feminists actually believe she
is the symbol of female emancipation because she works and can be
independent unless, of course, she decides to be a stay-at-home Barbie.
The new Blaine doll
- Barbie's new guy
“G-Ma, look, Barbie has a new boyfriend! Ken isn’t
number one any more.”
My precocious granddaughter saw
the ads on television. Sarah and Matt’s television viewing time is
limited to a few cartoons, Discovery Channel, other nature shows, and Star
Trek (a family viewing event). Matt and little Angus were over at our
apartment and Matt held the coveted honor of being in charge of the clicker.
The commercial was on and over before Matt’s irritation at watching a girls’
commercial prompted him to switch channels
The Ken doll was
named after Barbie's real brother
The Ken doll was named after the flesh-and-blood Barbie’s brother. Barbie is
the classic millennium woman and has been equal to Ken in all their
activities. According to the latest press release from Mattel, Barbie has
always been independent of Ken and has broken off her relationship with
him. He no longer is her number-one boy friend. Blaine, a blonde surfer
dude, has captured her fancy for the moment.
For all her heroics Barbie is
not a tomboy. She’s accomplished in the kitchen and indulges her feminine
side with her incredible wardrobe. Through the years several well-known
designers such as Bob Mackie, Vera Wang and others have created her more
elegant evening wear.
I believe that one of the reasons my daughter finally
allowed Barbie to enter their family is she didn’t want her own biases to
interfere with Sarah’s development – or her fun. She didn’t allow her fear
that her daughter would become one of those who pathologically obsessed
teens seeking a Barbie body to win friends and influence people. Her goal,
I believe, is to raise a well-rounded daughter with healthy values. She
emphasizes it isn’t necessary to have all Barbie's material possessions to
be popular. Sarah seems to understand the concept that what’s inside of
someone is more important than what is outside.
I trust my daughter knows as long as Sarah is counseled that she
can learn to hopefully make her own dreams come true. I think she knows
Barbie's world is make-believe, and has allowed Sarah to play out her
The Bob Mackie
designer Barbie for Barbie's 45th Anniversary
It is not deplorable
for a child to aspire to beauty and nice clothes, as long as these aren’t
the only things she aspires to. A child’s fantasy needs to be nurtured.
Barbie can be a tool to stimulate a young girl’s mind, emotions as well as
imagination. Playing contributes to the young girl ways about how to relate
to and understand other individuals, times and places.
Barbie with real
diamonds and pearls auctioned off to benefit the Red Cross
just enjoys playing with her Barbies and her childhood is also made up of
things other than Barbie – not just dolls, but books, music, educational
toys and adventures, church and outdoor activities, friends and family.
I was thinking about how Barbie might be a Sentinel of Vigilance.
Throughout the world, a lot of people look upon America as a nation full of
GI-Joes. I know that’s not true.
We are a nation of Barbie Dolls.
Barbie is the number one doll in America and now the world
market. She is a great role model to all young girls. She’s confident,
independent and professional.
She’s an aviator, a Scuba diver, a policewoman, a teacher, a
ballet dancer, a gymnast well as a movie star, debutante, dancer, pop star
and a model. Right now you can go to the Barbie website and vote on
whether the newest Barbie should be a librarian.
If all the little girls in Iraq or Afghanistan were to start playing
with Barbies, they would realize the world was about independence,
freedom, and the right to choose. Those who think Barbie
is all glitter and no substance have to take a second look at what
she represents. She survives all criticism.
Barbie is much
more than an airhead
If she were “weak”
in character, she would have folded many years ago. Many
have tried to marginalize her as being an “airhead,” a “materialist,”
a “sex doll.” But Barbie is much more than that.
She is her own form
of women’s liberation. She is a “can do and will do” personality
that young girls throughout the world relate to.
Perhaps in Iraq and other nations of the world where GI Joe is trying
to tame the “Beast,” we need to drop tens of thousands of Barbie Dolls
instead of bombs. Maybe after the people play with Barbie long
enough, they’ll come to realize that America is a lot richer and deeper
than GI Joe.
If I could
have played Barbies when I was Sarah's age, the Elvis doll
would have been my choice
I’m quite pleased my daughter gave her daughter the okay to ‘play
Barbies’. As a child, I found my fantasy world in books so
I’m looking forward to Sarah’s and my next adventure in the exciting
world of Barbie.
Maybe they’ll come out with Barbie, Ambassador To The United Nations!
To Sophia 28: "Can You Teach Your Child To Be Patriotic?"