November 6, 2009

Just Like Barbie

Just so you know: I am no conspiracy theorist. I fully believe that six million died in the Holocaust, that the photos of American Airlines Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon on September 11 were not staged, and that – through the miracle of then-modern technology and the generosity of a neighbor with color TV – I witnessed one giant step for mankind. I have no opinion on whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I don’t believe that H1N1 is an attempt by PETA, anti-immigrationists, anti-Catholics, or the manufacturers of surgical masks to further their goals, and I don’t believe that the conversion to digital TV is part of some massive government plot to control our thoughts.

But I do believe that little girls are programmed – or at least conditioned – to identify with Barbie.

That was, from the very beginning, the whole point.

When Ruth Handler – co-founder, along with her husband Elliott and Harold "Matt" Matson, of Mattel Creations in 1945 – watched her daughter play dress-up with paper dolls, she recognized a market opportunity: How could Mattel reach those girls – consumers – who were too old for Betsy Wetsy but still young enough for imaginative play? A trip to Germany provided the answer. Handler returned with several Bild Lilli dolls, tall, buxom things with blond ponytails and side-glancing eyes. Based on a cartoon character, the Lilli dolls were first sold in bars as gag gifts for adults, intended for those with a more prurient interest in toys than one would, ahem, like to associate with our girl Barbie. (Or so they say; I have no opinion on that, either.)

Lilli provided the measurements and Handler’s daughter – Barbara – provided the name for what became Mattel’s best-selling product. Now girls who didn’t want to play house could imagine a different adulthood, trying on careers along with the clothes, perhaps expressing their own dreams first in the voice of Barbie, and only then realizing that it was the desire of their own hearts that spoke. Not such a bad thing, to my way of thinking.

As for me, I was always going to be a writer. Just like Barbie.


  1. This gives me totally different view of Barbie. To think she is based on a sexy gag gift makes me feel somehow better. And it makes so much sense too. Thank you,thank you. She now has a flaw/past that makes her seem almost human and much less perfect and dare I say it attainable.