Thursday, February 26, 2009

Barbie Turns 50! Scrutiny & Controversy

Can you believe it - Barbie Turns Fifty next month? That's right, Barbie first appeared March 9, 1959. Barbie's full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. Her parents' names are given as George and Margaret Roberts from the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin. American businesswoman Ruth Handler (1916-2002) is credited with the creation of the doll using a German doll called Bild Lilli as her inspiration. Over the years, Barbie has had many occupations including: Astronaut, Flight Attendant, NASCAR driver, Cowgirl, United States President, Doctor, Nurse, McDonald's Cashier, Teacher, Hair Dresser, Military pilot, Super Heroine, and many more.

Barbara Millicent Roberts

Over the years, she's also had her share of controversy and scrutiny.

In 1997, the Danish-Norwegian group Aqua released a song called Barbie Girl. It contained lyrics such as "You can brush my hair / Undress me everywhere" and used graphics similar to the pink Barbie logo. Mattel argued that this constituted a trademark infringement and filed a defamation lawsuit against MCA Records on September 11, 1997. In July 2002, Judge Alex Kozinski ruled that the song was protected as a parody under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution

The Holiday Barbie (No controversy yet?)

One of the biggest issues of late has been one of dimensions. A common criticism has been that the doll promotes an unrealistic idea of body image for young women and girls, perhaps leading the girls to emulate her and increasing the likelihood of anorexia. According to Wikipedia, a standard Barbie doll is 11.5 inches tall, giving a height of 5 fee 9 inches at 1/6 scale. At this scale, Barbie's vital statistics have been estimated at 36 inches (chest), 18 inches (waist) and 33 inches (hips). Have you seen anyone like that walking around lately? 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. Further, in 1965 "Slumber Party" Barbie came with a book entitled "How to Lose Weight which advised: "Don't eat." Yikes! Can you imagine delivering that message to you your children? The doll also came with pink bathroom scales reading 110lb, which would be at least 35lbs underweight for a woman 5 feet 9 inches tall according to the experts. Mattel, Inc., the manufacturer of Barbie was sensitive to these issues and 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. I think it was also done to avoid future lawsuits.

Better yet, In September 2003 the Saudi Arabia outlawed the sale of Barbie dolls, saying that she did not conform to the ideals of Islam. The Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice stated "Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West. Let us beware of her dangers and be careful." Wow, that's pretty harsh don't you think? But I must admit, I've personally seen Barbie in some compromising positions. (See video below) In Middle Eastern countries there is an alternative doll called Fulla which is similar to Barbie but is designed to be more acceptable to an Islamic market. Fulla is not made by the Mattel Corporation, and Barbie is still available in other Middle Eastern countries including Egypt.

Egad! -

Barbie Gives Birth to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle!

Speaking of Ken, Barbie 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.

Ken the Fashionisto!

Stylish Clothes of the era

I'm not sure what your feelings are concerning Ken, but frankly, I'm glad he showed up. And I'm glad my sister let me borrow him to be a willing (he never said it wasn't okay) victim to my G.I. Joe antics. Ken (or, Ken Carson) equally had a fashionable line of clothing and accessories. No guns or camo fatigues - just fashionable clothes. As the story goes, Ken and Barbie met on the set of a TV commercial in 1961. Since his debut, Ken has held at least forty occupations, from Olympic gold medalist (1974, 1997), to hair stylist (1991, 1992, 1999. To his credit, Ken endured unlimited judo holds, kung fu grips, and frequent man handling's by my buff and ready G.I. Joe. He was often held hostage and interrogated until Barbie could deliver the ransom. Trust me, those interrogations were brutal. He never uttered a word.

Call me a "perverted westerner," but one of the funniest things I heard about regarding Barbie was a covert operation executed by a group identified as the B.L.O. In 1993 a group in the United States calling itself the "Barbie Liberation Organization" modified Barbie dolls by giving them the voice box of a talking G.I. Joe doll, and secretly returned the dolls to the shelves of toy stores. Parents and children were surprised when they purchased Barbie dolls that uttered phrases such as "Eat lead, Cobra!" and "Vengeance is mine." Naturally, I understand the outrage of the parents who may have purchased the dolls (I would have been as well) but as far as adult humor goes, I do find it funny.

There were other social issues surrounding Barbie and her entourage including the race issue. Colored Francie" made her debut in 1967, and she is sometimes described as the first African American Barbie doll. Though many would argue otherwise. 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. Black Barbie and Hispanic Barbie were launched in 1980. You gotta keep up with the times. I've yet to see or hear anything about an Asian or bi-racial Barbie but stay tuned.

I'm not sure what the next 50 years will hold for you Barbie.

But Happy 50 TH!

Party like a Rock Star - You deserve it. It's been an interesting journey.


dickster1961 said...

Yeah, GI Joe used to always kick Ken's @$$ then ride off into the sunset with Malibu Barbie in her dune buggy.

Summer said...

My brother used to attack my Barbies and their companion Ken with his GI Joe. He'd even steal the corvette. I'd find a headless Ken somewhere on the staircase.

Jane Turley said...

I'm worried about you Mr I...You played with dolls as a child? I thought you were the studious type and imagined you in your cute little socks, shorts and v- neck pullover studying an atlas or reading The Famous Five whilst eating potted shrimp sandwiches.... and now I find you were debagging Ken! I am shocked, truly shocked!

Footsteps said...

I'm just thrilled that I'm younger than Barbie! ~Sounds like she's led a far more interesting life (but I'm still younger!)...

I remember my oldest son grudgingly agreeing to play dollhouse with his sister when he was completely without options one afternoon. I peeked in the room just in time to spot a dinosaur attacking dolls from the rooftop. Pretty funny...

intrepidideas said...

So True. No Contest!

I'm guessing you got even with your brother somehow.


The truth hurts huh? Hate to ruin your image of me. I guess you're learning about the real me. I did play with dolls! :)

intrepidideas said...


Boys will be boys. I kinda like the dinosaur idea. I don't remember them being popular when I was a kid. I suppose I could have done some damage with those guys back then. On the 50 thing... Barbie's been around the block once or twice but you're far more interesting. And Barbie can't blog! :) The younger thing is a bonus.

Footsteps said...

My two boys have been quite the education for me after growing up with three sisters. I now understand "intended use" clauses...

"More interesting than Barbie" could be a nice addition to my resume... Thanks!

Chris said...

Well, well, well. Barbie is 50. I just KNEW she'd had work done! :)

Where are the wrinkles? Because I had a suntan Barbie and after THAT she should most certainly look her age by now!

I found this an amusing post. :) I'm not sure how you found the stomach to write it, but thanks! :)

coffee maker said...

After 50 years Barbie is still in great shape; how does she do it?

intrepidideas said...

Have you ever seen her eat any "junk food?" Must be her diet.