Barbie turns 50 today, but she's weathered the years well

Published3/9/2009 12:03 AM

The girl with the long blond hair, impossibly perfect body and feet perpetually in high-heel mode turns 50 today.

To keep that figure slim and trim, she's probably lacing up her athletic shoes for a round at the fitness center - wearing matching workout gear, of course.


But later she'll probably don fancy duds for a night out on the town with a handsome beau, taking off in a snazzy convertible and wearing, of course, slinky, sexy, impossibly high heels. That beau won't be longtime swain Ken, as they sadly split up in 2004.

I feel like I should get out my large collection of Barbies in celebration of the big day. In boxes in our basement are not only those Barbies - headless, many of them - plus accessories that remain from my own girls' little girlhoods, but also some of my own. I still have my old Francie doll, somewhere, as well as a Skipper. I grew up in the days when girls generally got just one Barbie to play with and treasure, and my one doll - a very fancy Twist 'N Turn model is unfortunately long gone.

I'm a feminist. But I'm not one who bans Barbies or finds her and her ilk inherently evil. I don't believe playing with Barbies causes eating disorders or automatic loss of loss of brain cells. Despite the dust-up of some years ago, when a talking Barbie was heard to say something along the lines of "math is hard," I think girls can operate the elevator in a pink Barbie House and still grow up to operate, quite successfully, a graphing calculator. I know my own girls have.

So I am a firm believer that Barbie encourages imaginative play. (I believe that of pretty much all dolls, truth be told.) She probably encourages tactile dexterity, what with having to manage all those small outfits and tiny snaps and clasps.

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Given the wide range of professions in which Barbie has participated, Barbie, in fact, teaches girls they can be anything, from a marine biologist, to an astronaut, to a teacher, even, I believe, the president.

Is today's world so big, with so many toys, including the electronic variety, that Barbie is yesterday's news? Do young girls still embrace Barbie?

Well, yes they do. Christie Nelson's three girls, twins Ashley and Brooke, 6, and Carly, age 4, love Barbies.

"It's their favorite toy," said Nelson, of Batavia. She estimates that, with the three girls, they have lots, and lots, and lots of Barbies, with the Diamond Castle series a current favorite.

"You can pretend you're a lot of things," said Brooke.

Carly said the Diamond Castle Alexa doll is one of her favorites. And she said one of her sisters has moved on a bit from Barbie. That's good for Carly.


"She doesn't really play with them, so now I get to!"

Jennifer Robertson of Geneva said 4-year-old Emily likes the themed Barbies, with one emphasizing Barbie as a dolphin trainer a favorite. A decided upside to this theme? Emily can take Barbie into the shower.

Do moms have issues with Barbie dolls?

"I did, but I've totally gotten over it," said Isabelle Townsend, mom of Tahlia, Ella and Maya (ages 8, 5 and 2, respectively). They play lots of Barbie, Townsend said, but they play with lots of other toys as well.

Bratz dolls were touted at one time as the Barbie alternative, but none of the moms I talked to favor those dolls. "Hoochie" was used more than once. "No Bratz," said both Nelson and Townsend firmly.

In fact, the introduction of the Bratz doll was the impetus for Lolis Lagemann to withdraw any feminist objection to Barbie. Her husband, not she, bought the first Barbie.

"When Bratz came out, I accepted Barbie," she said. Her 7-year-old, Carla, has enjoyed the fashion doll, but is now starting to play with her American Girl doll instead. That's OK, as 2½-year-old Isabella can inherit the toys.

Julie Sewell of Geneva said her 4½-year-old daughter is just getting into dolls, so hasn't taken up with Barbie just yet. But she loves a big Barbie head that permits hair primping and styling.

"She plays with that all the time," she said.

Sewell looks forward to having Barbies strewn about the place someday.

"That was my favorite," she said. "Maybe there's hope."

I sure hope so. In the meantime, happy birthday Barbie! And now if that Barbie university would only come down in price...

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