To the uninitiated, a Barbie is a Barbie. To see one is to see them all. Collectors know better, and can recite the subtle variations in features that distinguish Barbie #2 ("brunette or blonde ponytail, blue irises, curved eyebrows") from 1967’s Twist N Turn Barbie ("bendable legs, twist waist, rooted eyelashes"). Other variations include eye shadow and lip color, and painted versus rooted eyelashes. Aside from iris color (Barbie #3 was the first to have colored irises), though, the eyes themselves remained the same.
But in 1971, twelve years after her introduction, Mattel made a more dramatic change to Barbie’s face – her eyes would now face forward, a change from her original more "demure sideways glance."
The original Barbie’s eyes are not demure. They are coy, sneaky, and just a touch contemptuous. "You think I’m the plaything," she seems to be saying, "but I’m the one in charge. Wait and see."
History would seem to have borne out that arrogant promise. Millions – perhaps billions – of dollars have been spent keeping Barbie happy. Little girls and their doting (or despairing) parents have showered her with houses, cars, thoroughbred horses, clothes, jewels, and enough shoes to make Imelda Marcos look deprived. She has been offered book deals and roles in made-for-her movies. Too busy being a star to make her own friends? No problem: Introducing Skipper and Midge, one too short to share her clothes and both less attractive than Barbie, in true sidekick fashion. When she was lonely, Mattel invented Ken, a pretty boy sexless enough to make no real demands on Barbie but no so pretty that he ever stepped on her shadow, let alone ventured out of it. He is the perfect companion: with no interests of his own, he is always available when Barbie needs him. Cleans up well and looks great in a tux.
Despite the numerous and varied degrees she surely must possess in order to have been physicist and pilot, vet and veteran, this "new" Barbie, the one who faces the world head-on, seems somehow clueless. Unaware that her very existence is the stuff of ridicule, she is the ultimate blonde joke. No, it was the original Barbie, the one with the "innocent" sideways glance, who had it – and us – goin’ on.