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Friday, August 14, 2009

Barbie Turns 50!

By Katie M

This past spring someone we all know and admire turned 50. And as we all struggle with and embrace the inevitable signs of aging, this chick still looks a million bucks. And she is literally worth that, over and over.

Barbie is a cultural icon and a marketer's dream. Since Mattel introduced her on March 9, 1959, more than 1 billion Barbie dolls have been sold, and nearly 100 million of those were sold just this past year. She's succeeded in more than 108 different jobs, oozes in strength and confidence despite the fact she dumped her long-time boyfriend Ken in 2004, and she was a three-time presidential candidate. She has awesome hair, a killer figure (despite the years and the realities of gravity) and a wardrobe that most in Hollywood can't even compete with. (Well, what do you expect when over 100 people including designers, seamstresses, pattern makers and stylists put you together!). She has a three-story dream house, a glamour jet, a cruise ship and countless convertibles. No wonder we all look up to her. But is that such a good thing?

Yes, I loved Barbie as much as the next girl growing up. I had a myriad of outfits and accessories, along with a slew of Barbie versions to parade around. And even though I loved her, I also liked to chop off her hair, pull off her head, and let her get moldy with the bath toys. And I know I am not the only one who did that! Hmmm....I wonder if there was an underlying message there?

So here I am embracing Barbie once again with my five-year-old daughter, Emily, who recently announced she is no longer into Disney princesses but is now into Barbie princesses. This announcement also comes at a time when I've noticed Emily checking herself out in a mirror more and more, and insisting that she styles her own hair (which she wishes was long and straight like "real" princesses instead of curly despite the fact that she gets stopped daily by strangers who comment on how beautiful her hair is). We have never taught her the word "fat" in our house, but I've heard her describe others like that. And to top it all off, I overheard a line in one of her Barbie princess songs say "A princess never has to make her own bed." What????

Ok, maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe all of this is inevitable. Maybe it's just a passing phase that even she won't remember or mimic or continue in a few years. But it's interesting to observe and witness all this from an "adult" perspective now.

On top of all this looms my maternal "hypocrisy" of self-image. No one puts this in perspective better than our recent guest blogger Tanya Gunter with her post on Fat Talk. I've been there. I'm still there. I worry about my weight, my looks, how I come across. I can't help it, but then again I grew up in a Barbie culture too.

And then there's my vow to never let my son play with toy guns, or for either of them to play violent video games. How is that not hypocritical when I let my daughter play with a toy that is often described as a sex-object?

But as my daughter enters her "Barbie" phase, I'll be there for her. I'll buy the dolls, the clothes, the accessories, the gear. And even though I wonder "what is the obsession?" - I will still be a fan of Barbie for my daughter's sake because I was a fan when I was young. It's just a doll after all, right?

So to kick things off in the right direction, I recently took my daughter to The Doll & Minature Museum of High Point to see their "Barbie-50 and Fabulous" exhibit which celebrates 50 years of Mattel's famous fashion doll. Unfortunately, I think Emily was a little to young to really enjoy it, but I thought it was pretty cool. The museum showcases the very first Barbie all the way through to what is being sold today. And they have a video you can watch to explain the different phases Barbie went through. This exhibit runs through October 1, and it costs only $5 for adults, $2.50 for children ages 6-15, and is free for kids under 6. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm, and Sunday from 1 pm to 4 pm. I encourage all Barbie fans to check it out, but as a tip, I would leave the young ones at home (there are a lot of breakables!!!). The museum offers a number of exhibits - from Barbie to American Girl to retro dollhouses - but it's probably best suited for children ages 6+. And even if you can't make this Barbie exhibit, I encourage you to visit the museum at some point - especially if you have a doll-loving daughter!

Yep, it's true. Barbie may be controversial, but she's also beloved. I'd be curious, though, to hear some of your thoughts on this subject! Oh, and happy birthday, Barbie!

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Summer said...

We don't do Barbie. I don't want all those itty bitty little pieces everywhere, and I am wholly uncomfortable with something labeled "fashion doll" as a play thing. Even as a kid I didn't like Barbie, because the story line was a little too complete, and there is just not a lot to "nurture" since she's obviously a grown up. Our kids (two girls and two boys) have 6 baby dolls between them and they have enjoyed that tremendously. But the majority of their imaginative play comes from "shows" dress up performances.

We have a rule in our house that if it is a toy Mom and Dad approve up (generally a non electronic, non-plastic toy, that has a long term use, is not character oriented, and has a practical application (learning objective)) we will buy it as the budget allows. But if it does not fit this category and you really want it, you can save up your money and get it for yourself. Our kids have done this a few times and the results have been hilarious.

Much like you Katie I also vowed to do no guns and so my son takes every toy we have and pretends it is a gun. I do not condone violence, but I feel like a hypocrite because I grew up with two brothers in the service and we played war ALL the time. (Although playing knights was by far my favorite). Also when I was seven my dad made both my sister and I fire a handgun so we wouldn't be curious and try playing with them. But what if I was a police officer? Or my Husband was an avid hunter that provided meat for our table?

So I guess on both accounts Barbie and guns.. I don't know which is the right way to do it. I suppose its all related to creating your family's values and teaching your kids to determine which things fit. Barbie doesn't work for me, and I don't mind teaching that some things are not acceptable because some things are unacceptable.

Great post Katie!!

Katie M said...

I just KNEW I would get a comment from you on this post, Summer! Thanks for all your thoughts!

Maythi said...

I don't really know where to start on this one. I don't have all day to post, but I just wonder what is happening to childhood these days??
When I was a little kid (back when being a little kid lasted until you were at least 11-12 years old), I played with my Barbie dolls never thinking they were "grown ups" or "sex objects" or anything other than my doll to play with. I think that these days as parents we are so worried about all the "stuff" that is out there that we have somehow created all this hoopla about things being "unacceptable" and "inappropriate" - things that really are just toys.
Now I am not implying that everything should be acceptable or permissible, but really, shouldn't our kids just get to be kids and play with toys in creative and imaginative ways like we used to do?? I know we live in a different time when video games and tv and the internet have tainted so much, but it makes me sad that all of a sudden, even poor Barbie is deemed "inappropriate". I think I turned out just fine, Barbie playing and all. In fact, I played with my Barbies until I was well past the age of 12 and I don't think many kids these days play with much of anything past the age of 8 - except for their CELL PHONES!! Hello??? I think Barbie and toy guns are NOT the problem here. Just my two cents. And I always seem to have two cents.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comment. I played with Barbie growing up and have no problems accepting my body the way it is. My brother also grew up watching Westerns on a daily basis. He is now 45 and has never shot a gun in his life. As long as we are involved in what our children watch and play with in order to teach them what is and is not appropriate, I think they will be fine. I also watched Popeye on a daily basis, but have never punched anyone in the face!!

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