Introduction



"In every second of every day, two Barbie dolls are sold somewhere in the world"(Arias 12).

Upon entering the sea of pink I felt as though I had fallen into a bottle of Pepto Bismal when in fact I had only arrived at the Barbie aisle in Toys-R-Us. Before I had the chance to overcome my initial surprise, an entirely different world unfolded in front of my eyes. I was expecting a fairly large selection, but this was ridiculous...or amazing, depending on your own personal feelings toward this 11 and 3/4-inch doll and the world created around her. My own childhood was one that did not include Barbie; I was more interested in climbing trees and riding bikes, but as I progressed down the aisle I realized I must have really been missing out on a fundamental part of my youth. And this Barbie wonderland was in Charlottesville! I can not even imagine what "Barbie on Madison" at FAO Schwarz in New York or "The Barbie Hall of Fame" in Palo Alto, California are like, although at that point I had no idea they even existed.

As I looked at everything from "Sponge-n-Print", "Make-up Pretty", and "Dr." Barbies to one hundred-piece gift sets and fashion play cards to "Birthday Fun at McDonald's" and Barbie's "Baywatch" Rescue Boat, I concluded that this was not an ordinary plaything. This vinyl creation blows that Little Mermaid out of the water, and she knows it; at thirty-six, she has become the "most popular woman for sale in all the world"(Lord 300). Her parent, Mattel, calls it a Global Power Brand; I call her a timeless creation who does a great deal more than smile and look pretty. Let me take you on a journey through the world of Barbie, the ultimate Babe in Toyland.

She is known as everything from the ideal American notion of femininity to a disgrace to all women and a bimbo. Despite criticism from feminists and other activists, such as the Barbie Liberation Organization, Barbie has survived through three decades of political, social, and cultural changes. In the toy industry, that is no small feat. Toys normally have a relatively small life-span because of how quickly fads come and go, yet "in a world shot through with uncertainty she [Barbie] is an island of stability...She is one public figure who can be trusted never to lose the to lose the bloom of youth, never to self-destruct in a barrage of ugly headlines and sordid disclosures" (Green 189). She is able to change with the times; as young girl's tastes and fashions change, so do Barbie's. Whatever is in the Pre-teen section of local department stores is likely to be on the Barbie shelves in toy stores...or on the way. As such "her clothing is a perfect history of fashion over the past thirty years"(Westenhouser 28). This suggests that there are larger social, behavior, and value patterns at work.

Mattel's marketing and advertising techniques have centered on these cultural patterns. Somewhere in the inner depths of Mattel, there is a team that studies and ponders over spoken and unspoken current attitudes and convictions of the American public, especially those of teenagers and parents of teenagers. They have followed current fads and fashions and chosen only those that will help Barbie to remain on top of the pedestal on which America has placed her. They have transformed controversial and therefore potentially threatening issues into opportunities and kept Barbie as the adaptable yet stable emblem of American teenagers. And with Barbie sales reaching the one billion dollar mark, clearly Mattel has been successful in doing so.

Mattel adopts current fads in order to present Barbie as a role model. Mothers buy Barbie in hopes of not only presenting entertainment, but positive reflections of society and femininity. Barbie leads a balanced, albeit busy, life; her goals are socially acceptable ones. She allows children to use their imaginations in an ultimate fantasy world but also gives them realistic dreams for which they can aspire. Barbie has remained a prominent figure because Mattel has "'correctly assessed what it means to a little girl to be a grown-up'"(Rice qtd. in Morgenson 66). And this has all happened because a woman wanted her daughter to have more to play with than paper doll.


  • Inventing Barbie
  • Barbie in the Sixties
  • Barbie in the Seventies and Eighties
  • Barbie in the Nineties
  • Bibliography Return to Home Page