“My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.” – Ruth Handler, creator of Barbie
I’ve been meaning to tell you about a delightful afternoon I spent towards the end of last summer, with a fellow Parisian gal pal and one of the most famous feminist fashionistas of the 20th century – Barbie!
Well maybe you did but I never had a Barbie – always the rebel, I didn’t want what everyone else had. So I had a Cindy Doll, whom I was naturally only really interested in dressing in elegant ensembles – quelle surprise! I also proudly confess to an impressive garage of Matchbox cars and a huge pile of Lego.
So I gave little thought to the idea behind the rise to fame and the many guises, social and professional, of this diminutive representative of women’s lib – until I saw the pub (that’s French slang for advert, fyi) on Paris metro walls and thought, hmm, this could be fun to check out! And I’m so glad I did, as I have to admit that I came away more than a little inspired.
I guess it’s no surprise though – a woman, Ruth Handler, came up with the concept for a grown-up doll after watching her daughter role-playing with her own dolls, clearly wanting them to do a little more than just lie there impersonating helpless babies.
And so a star was born. As luck would have it, Ruth and her husband Elliot had founded toymaker Mattel, and Elliot was head designer. When they pitched it to toy buyers, the reception was dubious, but Ruth persevered with her dream. The first batch of Barbies – a very buxom blonde and a brunette – sold out at the launch in 1959 – and the rest is history.
Apart from the obvious alter egos you would expect from the era – homemakers, beach babes, cheerleaders, debutantes – there were of course lots of doing-the-men’s-jobs Barbies, clever little secretary Barbies, astronaut Barbie, and then some quite unexpected ones… 150 apparently! In fact, I would be willing to wager that you could do a search putting just about any profession in front of her name and you would get a result.
There was a sexy French beatnik, and ahem, what we could only assume was private dancer Barbie? Yes, I know, I am very sorry I did not get a shot of that one now lol
But of course, I did snap the one designed by my hero the Kaiser…
As we well know, Barbie has had more careers than you could poke a Fendi baguette at. But as we walked through the expo (yes, that’s French slang for exhibition), ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the outfits, I discovered that not only has Barbie never married Ken, she had a fling thing with an Aussie surfer called Blaine while they were ‘on a break’ – go Barbie!
I love that she can be pretty much anything she wants to be – masculine, feminine, young, femme fatale, black, white, blonde, brunette, red head, thin, curvy, tall, short – but always Barbie. And since 2015 she comes with adjustable heels so she can wear flats and stilettos – awesome!!
All in all, she’s a woman with the ability to adapt to the changing zeitgeist and the guts to rock it out with some pretty adventurous ensembles. Some with more longevity than others, let’s be honest (Athleisure Barbie – don’t get me started!!) but with lots of classic, enduring styles as well.
After my afternoon with the icon, Barbie’s now style bar-approved, that’s for sure 🙂