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Monday, March 9, 2009

Looking Good for 50- Happy Birthday Barbie


Barbie is a best-selling fashion doll made in 1959. The doll is produced by Mattel, Inc., and is a major source of revenue for the company. The American businesswoman Ruth Handler (1916-2002) is regarded as the creator of Barbie, and the doll's design was inspired by a German doll called Bild Lilli.

Barbie has been an important part of the toy fashion doll market for nearly fifty years, and has been the subject of numerous controversies and lawsuits, often involving parody of the doll and her lifestyle. In recent years, Barbie has faced increasing competition from the Bratz range of dolls.

Barbie's full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. In a series of novels published by Random House in the 1960s, her parents' names are given as George and Margaret Roberts from the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin. Barbie has been said to attend Willows High School and Manhattan International High School in New York City, based on the real-life Stuyvesant High School. She has an on-off romantic relationship with her beau Ken (Ken Carson), who first appeared in 1961. Like Barbie, Ken shares his name with one of Ruth Handler's children. A news release from Mattel in February 2004 announced that Barbie and Ken had decided to split up, but in February 2006 they were back together again.[6][7]

Barbie has had over forty pets including cats and dogs, horses, a panda, a lion cub, and a zebra. She has owned a wide range of vehicles, including pink convertibles, trailers and jeeps. She also holds a pilot's license, and operates commercial airliners in addition to serving as a flight attendant. Barbie's careers are designed to show that women can take on a variety of roles in life, and the doll has been sold with a wide range of titles including Miss Astronaut Barbie (1965), Doctor Barbie (1988) and Nascar Barbie (1998).[8]

  • The word Barbie has come to be used as a derogatory slang term for a girl or woman who is considered shallow, most notably in the 1997 pop song Barbie Girl (see Parodies and lawsuits below). In July 1992 Mattel released Teen Talk Barbie, which spoke a number of phrases including "Will we ever have enough clothes?", "I love shopping!", and "Wanna have a pizza party?" Each doll was programmed to say four out of 270 possible phrases, so that no two dolls were likely to be the same. One of these 270 phrases was "Math class is tough!" Although only about 1.5% of all the dolls sold said the phrase, it led to criticism from the American Association of University Women. In October 1992 Mattel announced that Teen Talk Barbie would no longer say the phrase, and offered a swap to anyone who owned the doll.[12]
Enlarge picture
Barbie's waist has been widened in more recent versions of the doll
  • One of the most common criticisms of Barbie is that she promotes an unrealistic idea of body image for a woman, leading to a risk that women who attempt to emulate her will become anorexic. A standard Barbie doll is 11.5 inches tall, giving a height of 5 feet 9 inches at 1/6 scale. Barbie's vital statistics have been estimated at 36 inches (chest), 18 inches (waist) and 33 inches (hips). According to research by the University Central Hospital in Helsinki, Finland, she would lack the 17 to 22 percent body fat required for a woman to menstruate.[13] In 1965 Slumber Party Barbie came with a book entitled How to Lose Weight which advised: "Don't eat." The doll also came with pink bathroom scales reading 110lb, which would be around 35lbs underweight for a woman 5 feet 9 inches tall. In 1997 Barbie's body mold was redesigned and given a wider waist, with Mattel saying that this would make the doll better suited to contemporary fashion designs.[14]
  • "Colored Francie" made her debut in 1967, and she is sometimes described as the first African American Barbie doll. However, she was produced using the existing head molds for the white Francie doll and lacked African characteristics other than a dark skin. The first African American doll in the Barbie range is usually regarded as Christie, who made her debut in 1968.[15][16] Black Barbie and Hispanic Barbie were launched in 1980.
  • In 1997 Mattel joined forces with Nabisco to launch a cross-promotion of Barbie with Oreo cookies. Oreo Fun Barbie was marketed as someone with whom little girls could play after class and share "America's favorite cookie." As had become the custom, Mattel manufactured both a white and a black version. Critics argued that in the African American community Oreo is a derogatory term for a person like the chocolate sandwich cookie itself, meaning that the person is black on the outside and white on the inside. The doll was unsuccessful and Mattel recalled the unsold stock, making it sought after by collectors.[17]
  • In May 1997 Mattel introduced Share a Smile Becky, a doll in a pink wheelchair. Kjersti Johnson, a 17-year-old high school student in Tacoma, Washington with cerebral palsy, pointed out that the doll would not fit into the elevator of Barbie's $100 Dream House. Mattel announced that it would redesign the house in the future to accommodate the doll.[18][19]
  • In March 2000 stories appeared in the media claiming that the hard vinyl used in vintage Barbie dolls could leak toxic chemicals, causing danger to children playing with them. The claim was rejected as false by technical experts. A modern Barbie doll has a body made from ABS plastic, while the head is made from soft PVC.[20][21]
  • In December 2005 Dr. Agnes Nairn at the University of Bath in England published research suggesting that girls often go through a stage where they hate their Barbie dolls and subject them to a range of punishments, including decapitation and placing the doll in a microwave oven. Dr. Nairn said: "It's as though disavowing Barbie is a rite of passage and a rejection of their past."[22][23]