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On Being Barbie

February 7, 2011

I saw on the news the other night that Ken (Carson, long-time boyfriend of Barbara Millicent Roberts – better known as ‘Barbie’ to her legions of fans) is turning 50 next month.  To me, this is just another example of how much Barbie and I have in common – my ‘main squeeze’ is also two years younger than I am (although – unlike Ken – his anatomy is intact. I often wonder how many girls are a little surprised – like I was, I’m embarrassed to say – when they get their first look at a naked man and realized that, unlike Ken, his ‘private parts’ don’t discreetly tuck away in a sort of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ fashion.  But I digress …)

Original Barbies

My Remaining Original Barbies

I got my first Barbie in the summer of 1959 (the year she was introduced). Since I have dark hair, my mother bought me the brunette version; my sister (who’s a redhead) got the blonde one. Over the next several years, we spent most of our meagre allowance and any birthday or Christmas money on clothes and accessories for our Barbie dolls (a doll cost $3.00; outfits were $1.00 each). 

Over the next six or eight years, my sister and I accumulated about two dozen dolls and probably a hundred or more outfits, two Barbie houses (both made of heavy-duty cardboard) and numerous other accessories to make Barbie’s life ‘complete’.  (Unfortunately, most of our collection disappeared after we’d outgrown the idea of ‘playing with Barbies’ and my mother gave young female visitors to the house access to the old black suitcase we’d stored them in.  By the time I moved out of my parent’s house at 19, only about a quarter of the original collection remained.) 

What I clearly remember about those halcyon days of Barbie as the centre of my young universe is that I wanted to ‘be’ Barbie.  Oh, don’t get me wrong – I had no delusions that my figure would ever duplicate hers (if Barbie was a ‘real person’ she would be 5’ 9” tall with a 36” chest, 18” inch waist, and 33” hips).  No, what appealed to me about Barbie was that she could do anything she wanted, be anyone she chose to be, and have it all  – friends, boys, houses, pets, cars, careers – and still look fabulous and, presumably, feel totally at ease with who she was.  The old ‘boobs vs. brains’ mentality didn’t apply to Barbie!

And while I never quite managed to be everything Barbie was, there were times when I thought I’d come close. (NOTE: I’m only scratching the surface here with all the things Barbie has done in her lifetime, but this gives you some idea of just how versatile she is and why a lot of young girls very much want to be like her!)

A Variety of BarbiesWith ‘only’ a high school education (and despite claiming – in the now-infamous 1992 ‘Teen Talk Barbie’ controversy – that ‘Math class is hard’) Barbie has worked as a teacher, nurse, doctor, dentist, vet, paratrooper, air force jet pilot, officer in the army and navy and marines, ambassador for world peace, president of the United States, firefighter, Canadian Mountie, astronaut, computer engineer, paleontologist, stewardess/flight attendant, NASCAR driver, pilot, ballerina, cat burglar (???), business executive, photographer, chef, cowgirl, Olympic athlete, hairdresser, pop singer/rock star, wedding stylist, bus driver, and secretary … in addition, of course, to her original career as a ‘teen age fashion model’.

I can’t say my CV is quite as impressive as Barbie’s, but I have had several ‘careers’ in the past forty-odd years, and at least 20 different ‘jobs’ during that time.  (I’ve owned several cats, but that’s not quite the same thing as being cat burglar … I suppose there’s still time, though!)

Barbie's Many RolesBarbie has portrayed a wide variety of characters – from Cher to Marilyn Monroe to an officer on the USS Enterprise (i.e., Star Trek), every one of the Disney Princesses, a significant number of movie heroines (Dorothy and both witches from the Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, Scarlett O’Hara, Eliza Dolittle), and various famous women throughout history (Guinevere, Juliet, Empress Sissi of Austria, Jacqueline Kennedy).

I, myself, dressed up as Dorothy one Hallowe’en (and Smurfette another year, which I don’t think Barbie ever did) and have been known to sing some of Cher’s signature tunes in the shower. I have a little plastic Princess crown and I LOVED playing dress-up when I was little (still would, but no one really seems to dress up to go out anymore!)

Barbie has travelled around the world, and has evolved for a multicultural market – it’s almost as if she’s settled down in various countries (including Italy, France, Scotland, China, Spain, Ireland, Japan, Greece, Germany, Korea, Russia, Nigeria, Malaysia, Jamaica), and absorbed their customs and ethnicities (however, the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Saudi Arabia banned the sale of Barbie in that country in 2003, claiming she did not conform to the ideals of Islam).

Now, I haven’t been nearly as far afield as Barbie, but I appreciate the fact that she’s open to exploring new places and experiencing different cultures.  I would say we are both very broad-minded that way!

Barbie on her HarleyThere are, of course, lots of other things I admire about Barbie.  She’s taken care of over 40 different pets in her lifetime (beyond the typical cats, dogs, and horses, she’s had a panda, a lion cub and a zebra), and she’s owned at least a dozen different vehicles – including an Austin Healy, VW Beetle, Jeep, Ferrari, Corvette, Rolls Royce, Thunderbird, Fiat 500, ’57 Chevy, Harley Davidson Fatboy, and a red Mustang (you go, girl!)  She’s been painted by Andy Warhol, dressed by Diane vonFurstenberg, Vera Wang, Calvin Klein, and Bob Mackie (among others), and is as comfortable wearing a Mickey Mouse micro-mini skirt as she is a haute-couture evening gown.  She has her own line of books and movies, and had a featured role in all three of the ‘Toy Story’ movies.  She’s adapted her personal style (hair, makeup, shoes, clothes) to keep pace with the ever-changing times of the past fifty years.

Her family is small but they seem to get along pretty well (you never hear of any family squabbles or petty jealousies – lucky girl!)  Barbie’s parents, according to ‘legend’, are George and Margaret Roberts from the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin; however, they’ve never been seen in public!  She has four sisters (Skipper, Stacie, Kelly [renamed Chelsea in 2011], and Krissie), one brother (Todd), three cousins (Francie, Jazzie, and P.J.) and (at last count) more than 75 friends (both male and female); her universe also includes dozens of ‘friends of Barbie’s friends’. 

Despite the fact that the ‘Barbie Wedding Day Set’ was one of the best selling outfits of 1960, and that various other wedding-related Barbie dolls and outfits have been sold, Barbie and Ken have never actually ‘tied the knot’ (suggesting that a man is a nice accessory, but not necessarily a requirement for her happiness or success).  Barbie and Ken did have a rather public ‘break up’ in 2004 – after which Barbie is rumoured to have had a brief fling with an Aussie surfer named Blaine – but by 2006 she and her long-time beau had reunited (after Ken had undergone a rather significant makeover!) 

Medieval Collector BarbiesAnd Barbie isn’t just a toy for young girls, either.  There’s a huge market for ‘collector’ Barbies – and even an annual Barbie Collector Convention – as well; it’s a multi-billion dollar industry (the average collector is a 40 year old female who spends about $1,000 on her collection!)  I have a number of Barbie dolls, although I don’t consider myself a ‘collector’. I simply buy dolls that appeal to me on some personal level whenever/wherever I see them (NOTE:  all Barbies shown here are from my personal collection).  I own about 70, including a half dozen ‘originals’ from my childhood; I always remove the dolls from their boxes (a surprising number of collectors keep them boxed in order to ‘preserve their value’) and display them in several glass cases in my bedroom where I can see them and – occasionally – reminisce about the enjoyment I got from immersing myself in Barbie’s world all those years ago.

Life passes us by far too quickly.  Treasures from our childhood become distant memories as we focus on ‘grown up’ activities and events.  For me, Barbie will always be a part of my life. She’s like a long-time friend who I admire, respect and still want to be just a little bit like, even now that I’ve reached (and she’s fast approaching) … the other side of 55.

A Selection of Favourite Barbies

Some of my favourite Barbies (yes, they're all wearing purple!)

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4 Comments
  1. March 15, 2012 4:47 pm

    I love Barbie! Like yourself, I also buy what I like and take them out of the boxes. I dress them up and play with them. I’ve built a huge house for them. She has become even more fun for me as I get older (I’m 58). Thank you for a great read this afternoon. Barbie rules!

    • March 15, 2012 7:14 pm

      Barbie’s definately an icon that hopefully will never go out of style.

      Margo

  2. Gemma permalink
    February 11, 2011 12:34 pm

    Your writing is incredible- an incredible wealth of Barbie information written in a style and voice that truly kept me entertained and engaged. I love the photographs so much too! I’m definitely looking forward to reading more posts about life on the other side of 55 😉 Keep up the amazing work on your blog-I love it!

  3. Cathy Hendrix permalink
    February 8, 2011 6:14 pm

    Very cute! Where did you get all that information??? You’re right, too, about Barbie transcending the ditsy bombshell image. She became anything and everything young girls aspired to. Very admirable.

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