Celebrating Barbie® at 50

By E. Nina Rothe
OK, so the tagline is that she doesn't look a day over 25. Truth is, she never will Ladies, so trying to emulate her will eventually and logically lead to disaster. But there definitely are things about Barbie that can inspire the average woman. YES, I did hear the collective scream, Ladies! WE at PopCultureDivas are NOT average women, and that was a poor choice of words, but you get my meaning, don't you? Compared to Barbie, well, no one stands a chance...

I recently came across a poignantly charming article by fellow FB friend Susan Shapiro - an accomplished writer and teacher. In it, she credits her beloved childhood Barbie for keeping her
emotionally sane. Her piece brought me back to my days spent as an only child playing with my Barbies, their clothes and the gorgeous pet horse and red convertible that completed their idyllic lifestyle. In a way, I grew up thinking that was me and have now found another voice to confirm that my strong bond with those dolls might have contributed in helping me become the self-assured woman I am today. Well, maybe not today of all days, I feel my waist spreading, my hair fluffing up and my skin getting drier ... But on most days, I'm pretty OK with who I am. 

Of course, I never wanted my feet stuck in a permanent tip-toed position, I didn't really look for a man who is anatomically inappropriate "down there" as poor Ken is and my clothes do not all have velcro closures and fancy feathers and crystals. But I did find my own live horse to ride many years later, drove my own fab - albeit black - convertible while I lived for two years in LA, kept up on my diet and exercise so that my fashionable sale clothes would always fit and became my own woman, regardless of the cards life might have dealt me. I didn't find a Ken, perhaps dated more of the G.I. Joe types, but it's been fun. And I do have a more-than-obvious penchant for pink accessories...

These days, I am back in Barbie heaven and with a vengeance! I recognize that it might all be a publicity blitz by Mattel and all its franchises, but I am truly enjoying the Barbie-pink pumps by Christian Louboutin, the over-the-top clothes courtesy of DVF, Catherine Malandrino and Badgley Mischka, the lucite costume jewelry by Tarina Tarantino - which my friend Tom Mendes sells in his Plaza Too stores around the NYC area (tooooo dangerous, I tell you!) - and even Barbie's own blog, where "she" shares her thoughts and lesser-known factoids about what it's like to possess her impossible proportions and have a forty-eight year-long on-again/off-again relationship with Ken. The hottest show at NY Fashion Week this season, with a line of stand-bys that went around Bryant Park - that is four city blocks by the way?! - was the Barbie presentation. Of course. Even the divine Miss Dolly Parton has a deep and touching new song titled "Backwoods Barbie" which is available for listening and viewing on her website.

In all these years, no one has come up with a better role model for little girls. I mean, The Little Mermaid is a bit unrealistic, living under the ocean half the time she must have killer split ends, and all those Wonder Woman, Catwoman and Co. require something horrible and traumatic to happen to us before we can even join their ranks. Na-ha! I'll stick with my unrealistically footed girl of the impossible body measurements any day! She has come this far with me and, come to think of it, I haven't bought a new Barbie in ages. This can be quickly and easily corrected, or I can just get my fix at Bloomingdales, where some of the vintage dolls from Mattel's own collection are on display this month, at selected stores around the country. 

It would be wonderful to read your thoughts about this childhood icon. What did she represent to you and how do you feel about your daughters playing with a Barbie today? And which Barbie was your all-time favorite?

Images courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and Mattel


  1. Lol, the Princess Barbies are my faves, of course!! She is a princess after all - all those dresses, accessories, cars and she's got a gorgeous bloke! (though Ken strikes me more as metrosexual, and yeah, he is anatomically inappropriate)

    A Princess Barbie, appropriately called My First Barbie, was the first one I received for my 8th birthday, and after days, should I say weeks, of begging and pleading and making big soulful eyes at my dad, I got the house complete with convertible and the pool too.

    Today I watch my nieces play with the Fairy Barbies (Liliputia and Fairytopia I think they're called) and I'm a little girl again. My son gets jealous when I play with my nieces, says I don't play with him in the same way. Well, if he played with Barbies instead of monster trucks and whatever other Hot Wheels, I'd spend al my free time with him in the playroom!

    It's true she was a role model to me too - hey, the girl knows what fidelity is all about, the same man for 49 years! If that ain't love!

    Lovely post, Nina. You brought back memories of my childhood!



  2. Thank you Z!

    I realized with your comment how much I'd miss hearing from your insightful and soulful voice of wisdom and fun!!

    Yes, it's true, Barbie brings out the little girl in all of us, and it is a lot more fun to play with her than Monster Trucks... Even my Mom became 12 again when she saw the display here at the local store, in honor of Miss B's 50th birthday. Aaahhh, the dresses, the accessories, makes us all wish we were that age again.

    Hugs and thanks for the beautiful comments!

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  4. Wonderful article Nina! I didn't have a Barbie growing up - my older sister did. I think I had a knock-off version - I named her "Penny". My sis also had Ken and I had a knock-off type G.I. Joe doll that I called "Tom". I remember "designing" and making clothes for her from my mom's fabric scraps. Tom always wore a black tank top and black shorts. I made him some clothes too but it wasn't as much fun as making clothes for Penny. I don't think I minded not having a real "Barbie" - it seemed more important to my sister - but then again I don't think she had as much fun as I did - using markers as make-up for Penny and cutting her hair into a funky short do! Penny was also an independent gal - she solved crimes and had adventures. I also preferred Betty to Veronica, Mary Ann to Ginger and Jan to Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! Oh - and I always rooted for Velma's clever observations rather than Daphne's "posing" on the Scooby-Doo show. So what does that say about me? **g**

  5. I liked Barbie as that woman, but she didn't really need to be a trademark. To tell the truth, I think a lot of her friends were imitations sold in Italy at the time. But she didn't mind and neither did I. It was all in the stories that we made up for them, ain't it?! Sounds like Penny was a good one! And Tom, seriously, having played with Ken and dated the G.I. Joe types, you were much better off with him!

  6. Lol Nina, I say thanks for the beautiful description of my over-the-top and quirky manner of speech!

    You're making me jealous - I'd love to see that display. The blokes here always 'lose' me when we go to Toys R Us, they hang in the cars and video games areas while I'm in the Barbie and dolls section. Sigh...

    Joanna, Tom sounds like a real bloke, so way to go there!
    Oh, come to think of it, your glasses remind me of Velma's!!



  7. I traded my Barbie for my best friend's PJ doll, who just attracted me more - I've always wanted something different. Can't help it! I did have a suntanned, blonde Malibu Ken for PJ's husband. Of course, I didn't call them PJ and Ken - but I can't remember now what their names were. I think they were just Mommy and Daddy, because I also had two Dawn dolls for the daughters, whose names I remember clearly: Glory and Amy. I had broad, sweeping story arcs for my Barbie family. One went out to Australia's outback. Always telling stories!

  8. Great post! You really had me laughing there with The Little Mermaid's killer split ends!

    I loved Barbie but when I was a kid there were a number of varying choices. I can't even recall what they were called but I do remember being quite fond of one dressed as a surfer girl with her own surfboard! This in third grade! *laughs*

    Personally, I think those female dolls rocked my world. The ones I loved were tiny compared to Barbie, but I do remember using them to run through my favorite stories from the Oz series by L. Frank Baum. *grin*

    To me Barbie and all the others represented a glimpse into a world of future possibilities.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Chiron O'Keefe

  9. Thanks Ladies for the most inspired and inspiring comments. It was a special treat to read them first thing in the morning, upon opening my computer!

    Yes Chiron, it's the endless possibilities that those dolls represented. They were our grown up alter egos through whom we could live our future adventures. Bingo! That's what made them so important in all our lives. I wonder if boys feel the same with their trucks, and then go off and buy them as adults to fulfill their childhood dreams...

    And thank you Julia for the memories! Ultimately, to us girls it didn't matter who made the dolls or their brand names, it was what they represented.

    Cheers and hugs to all!


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