Today’s column must begin with an apology. I’ve been so obsessed with my son’s 42nd birthday and my mother’s impending 94th, I completely forgot about two other special celebrants. I don’t usually miss my BBB (Best Boy Buddy) Brian’s birthday, as it’s the day before my son’s, but this year it slipped right by. Sorry, my brother; I owe you a lobster dinner.
I’m not as guilt-ridden over the other one I neglected. For one thing, she’s decided to celebrate all year, because it’s her 60th birthday. And, even though she was one of my closest childhood friends, she’s not expecting anything from me. In fact, she doesn’t even know I exist.
The first of the so-called “fashion dolls,” Barbie was met with skepticism and criticism when she made her debut at the New York Toy Fair on March 9, 1959. Industry experts didn’t think little girls would abandon their cute, chubby baby dolls for a glamorous gal pal. Test market mothers were critical of her superhuman physique. But in Barbie’s first year on the market, Mattel Inc. sold 350,000 of the long-legged beauties, at $3 each.
Like the rest of us sexagenarians, Barbie has seen her share of challenges. Although she seems to have weathered the storms better than most, I’ll bet the last decade left a few scars on her little plastic heart. Denounced by feminists and mental health professionals for presenting an unhealthy, unrealistic body image to impressionable young girls, Barbie went from being the most popular doll ever to a symbol of oppression. An ongoing online debate currently shows 59 percent of respondents in favor of banning her completely. However, she seems to have turned the tide over the last few years. Mattel has reported a steady increase in Barbie sales since the introduction of new, more lifelike body options in 2016.
Poor Barbie. When I knew her, way back when (my first Barbie was the 1962 bubble-haired brunette version), she was a typical, carefree teenager with a boyfriend, a seemingly endless wardrobe, and a pink convertible. OK, not so typical, but carefree, for sure. Everyone loved Barbie.
Unfortunately for her, with popularity comes scrutiny. And haters. Reacting to widespread criticism, Barbie has tried to become all things to all people. No longer the prom queen, she’s a doctor, a firefighter, an astronaut and, yes, even president. She’s had over 200 careers and comes in a diverse range of skin and hair colors, with slight variations in facial features as well.
Barbie’s longtime beau has also evolved over the years, though not to the same degree. I don’t recall any public fuss over Ken’s body, except for a few stand-up comedians snickering about his lack of anatomical correctness. If anything, the 58-year-old Ken is more cut and chiseled than the one I had in the 1960s. According to Mattel, he received a makeover by celebrity stylist Philip Bloch in 2006. He, too, now comes in varying body types and ethnicities, but only a handful of careers. Lazy bum.
That’s probably why Barbie broke up with him on Valentine’s Day 2004. I’m not making this up. While searching for Barbie history, I found the official Barbie Fan Club blog with all the gory details. After dating some Australian surfer named Blaine, she took Ken back in 2011, also on Valentine’s Day.
I’ve said this before, but I don’t think Mattel heard me: In celebration of Barbie’s 60th year, they should come out with an age-appropriate version. Since she’s never given birth, I guess we won’t be seeing a Grandma Barbie, but maybe an Auntie? Or, if she dumps Ken for Blaine again, Cougar Barbie?
As the Barbie website banner reads, Imagine the Possibilities!
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.