Happy 50th, Barbie

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I never got into Barbies. I did once babysit for a little girl who liked to pretend her Barbies were going out on dates to a restaurant called the Sweetheart Date Residence, a dining experience that always ended the same way: Barbie and Ken tried to order something awesomely romantic, like steak or spaghetti, but all the waiter would bring them was a big bowl of dirt. Which he then poured over their heads. Poor Barbie and Ken could never catch a break.

Banal though my own Barbie memories may be, the famously disproportionate plastic princess holds a special place in most ladies’ hearts. Yesterday was Barbie’s 50th birthday (an event NY Times op-ed contributor Porochista Khakpour excellently refers to as “cougarrific”). To mark this milestone, the Times offered not one, but (at least) two Barbie-themed bits: the aforementioned Op-Ed, “Islamic Revolution Barbie,” which is actually a really nice little memoir of how the dolls didn’t help the writer transition from her childhood in Iran to adolescence in the States. The best part her description of Sara and Dara, the Muslim equivalents of Barbie and Ken:

Just as Barbie was coming to mean less and less to me, she was coming
to mean more and more to the folks back in Iran. In the still shiny and
new Islamic Republic, Barbie was spotlighted as a national threat of
Jane Fonda magnitude. Wary of Western influences and her
nation-corrupting pulchritude, the government battled the presence of
Barbie in bazaars — the Institute for the Intellectual Development of
Children and Young Adults developed sibling dolls named Sara and Dara,
Muslim versions of Barbie and Ken, with headscarves and prayer books in
lieu of convertibles and boomboxes. The government also raided stores
that carried Barbies — but this mostly resulted in black stickers on
the packaging to hide the dolls’ calamitous contours.

The Times‘ other homage to Barbie is in Pictures of the Day: Angela Merkel Barbie, introduced at a German department store today, stands smartly at a podium, a telltale blaze of pink peaking out from beneath her non-nonsense blazer.

And how is Mattel celebrating Barbie’s 50th? Why, with a weirdly snarky video tour through Barbies of the ages, of course. If you have some time to stroll down a very pink and purple memory lane, it’s sort of worth the trip. (The highlights are the
self-deprecating pop-up comments about how big Barbie’s hair was in the ’90s.)

But despite Mattel’s spirit of self mockery, Barbie has remained comfortingly (or alarmingly, depending on your particular brand of nostalgia) true to her roots. According to a wiki page that lists Barbie’s careers, the doll has been a dentist, pediatrician, firefighter, police officer, sign-language teacher, United States army
officer, United States Marine Corps officer, and Canadian Mountie (only
in Canada). Yet the video tour features none of these gigs. The most recent Barbie set, as far as I can tell, is a runway fashion show. The only suggested mom/daughter activities I could find on the Barbie website were “Super Home Spa Day” and “Darling Daughter Fashion Show.” Behold the instructions for “hair styin’ (sic) time:”

Brush, tease, curl, straighten, crimp,
clip, and comb away. Add mousse, spike up, gel down, and get creative.
Pretty is good, but for fashion shows, outrageous is all the rage!

Now far be it from me to deny any little girl her right to tease, curl, and straighten, but surely this is not every kid’s thing? I’m not asking for career day or anything, but I feel certain that there are more creative things to do with the 50-year-old icon. I’ll take, for example, the Sweetheart Date Residence and its endless buckets of dirt any day.


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