With Barbie having turned 51, we look back at what she meant to us during our wonder years.
She's attractive, disproportionate, has over a hundred careers and she just turned 51. She is Barbie Millicent Roberts, or just famously Barbie.
Most boys might consider giving this article a skip after this introduction, but let me assure you that this is not a tribute to the plastic idol; rather it's a general look at the global plastic phenomenon and a sort of recollection of her presence during her childhood because confess — either you love her or hate — you just couldn't ignore her while you were growing up.
Love her, hate her
Ever since she was born, or rather introduced in 1959 at a New York Toy Fair, Barbie has been a global phenomenon and any little girl's dream doll. Was it her looks, versatility or just a fad? What was it that made most of us either want to take her home or just detest her?
“I just loved the look of her — confident and stylish. Maybe it was something like how I wanted to be when I grew up,” reveals Sharada, then a Barbie idoliser, now a working professional who has “grown out of it”. “But I still like her and still have my entire collection intact,” she adds.
For Neeti, Barbie's clothes and variety fascinated her. “Buy just one Barbie and you could innovate with additional clothes available or just sew some at home. And that's what convinced my mum to buy me my first Barbie: the Birthday Barbie,” she fondly recalls.
Unlike these two, Deepti has a different sort of recollection — one filled with friends enthusiastically discussing and exchanging notes on Barbie so much that she began to hate the very idea of owning one. “Everybody around me was so fascinated by it. I guess that's what did it for me. I didn't want a doll that everybody HAD to have. I played with trucks and guns instead,” she says.
For the boys though, it must have been Hot Wheels and G.I Joe-type action figures that dominated their play time. Blame it on genetics and societal stereotyping: Girls get dolls, and boys get action stuff, at least in most cases. For Srikanth though, Barbie did feature in his play time though a little differently: “I loved disfiguring my sister's Barbie. I would break her arm or just twist her face the other way. Well, it wasn't because I hated Barbie; just that I wanted to irritate my sister and it really worked,” he laughs.
Barbie was also one of the first dolls to have a circle of family and friends that were also quite popular. There was boyfriend Ken, his friend Allan, Barbie's friend Midge and sister Skipper. In India, only Ken and Skipper were popular. And this was one rare instance where the man could never over-shadow the woman. Barbie truly ruled!
“It was okay to indulge my daughters in a Barbie or two. But then came her boyfriend and sister, and thank god it stopped with that. Imagine having to buy a mother, father, uncle, aunt and a whole bunch of friends and that too two of each!” says a thankful Radhika, a mother of two.
Beyond being a toy
Like most popular figures in the real world, Barbie has seen her fair share of controversies, the most popular being the flak invited for unreal physical features that seemed to influence teenage girls and those relating to skin colour. For the rest, look up Wikipedia/Google.
The controversies have been shadowed by her iconic popularity not just under the tag of a toy. She has inspired a pop song, fashion lines (at home, designer Nishka Lulla won the ‘Creative Excellence Award' for the ‘Barbie all Doll'd-up!' collection!) and even has movies and books to keep her fans happy.
Also, if you were wondering what to do with your old, very first Barbie, just check! She might not be that worthless after all. Barbie also has collectors vying for every single version. This is quite a popular hobby with enthusiasts across the world. The most expensive one being the 160 diamonds-studded Barbie worth $85, 000, designed more as a collector's item, and closely followed by the original 1959 Barbie No. 1 that comes with a $80, 000 tag. And you thought she was just another doll…
Hometown: Willows, Wisconsin, US
Creator: Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel Inc.
Named after: Handler's daughter, Barbie.
Introduction: 1959 New York Toy Fair.
Sold in first year: 300,000.
Barbie's careers: More than 108.
Best-seller: Totally Hair Barbie (1992).