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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Barbie's Background

I thought that I would begin today’s blog entry by talking about a particular event that happened during my high school career, and how it actually relates to the topic that I have chosen for today.

My eleventh grade year was probably one of the toughest years that I have had to go through.  That period where I was sixteen going on seventeen was probably one of the biggest hardships that I have ever had to overcome.  I’m not just talking about teen angst either...I’m talking incredibly serious issues that I still have no idea how I managed to get through them in one piece.  My eleventh grade year was filled with surviving a serious ice storm, surviving some of the toughest high school classes that I have ever taken...hell, surviving eleventh grade alone was enough of a challenge.

Now, I don’t know about most of you out there, but would you like to know how I ended up dealing with some of the most frustrating periods of my eleventh grade year?  I turned on my stereo as loud as it could go without damaging my eardrums (but yet my parents still complained that it was too loud...go figure), and listened to whatever songs would fit my mood.

Most of the time, I listened to loud 1980s new wave and pop, as it was music that cheered me up.  Sometimes, if I were feeling down, I’d listen to rather depressing ballads and slow songs (don’t make fun, I know some of you do the same), and if I were feeling mad at the world, I’d have lots of Stone Temple Pilots, Nine Inch Nails, and yes, even a Nirvana song or two blasting out of my stereo.

But I very rarely turned my radio dial to Top 40 stations around that time. 

You see, my high school experience was filled with incredibly horrible music.  It seemed as though the whole period between 1997 and 1998 was filled with new boy bands being born every five minutes, the Spice Girls practically screeching “Girl Power” at every opportunity, and Hanson creating a song out of gibberish.

(I still shake my head in amazement wondering how the heck “Mmmbop” became a number one hit, by the way.)

Oh, and here’s a perfect example of some of the horrible music that I had to endure during my eleventh grade year.

SONG:  Barbie Girl
ALBUM:  Aquarium
DATE RELEASED:  May 14, 1997

At first I was thinking that it was incomprehensible for this song to make it to the top of the charts...until I did a little bit of research and found that this song became an actual number one hit in the United Kingdom.  For THREE WEEKS! 

Though, I suppose one positive that I can say about this song...the music video still makes me laugh uncontrollably fifteen years earlier.

But one company that wasn’t laughing was Mattel Toys.  Mattel launched a lawsuit against the Danish band, Aqua, claiming that the band not only violated their trademark, but took one of their most prized toys in their entire catalogue and devalued it, claiming that the band turned their toy into nothing more than a sex object by referring to it as a “blonde bimbo girl”.  The case was eventually dismissed by the lower courts, and in 2002, a Court of Appeals ruled that the song had been protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution because it was a parody.  Ironically enough, seven years later, Mattel began using a modified version of the song “Barbie Girl” to promote the very toys that they fought to protect.

But then again, Barbie was always a figure of controversy, wasn’t she?

Okay, so I know what you all must be saying...a male doing a blog entry on Barbie of all things?  No, I am not crazy, and no, I have not given up my man card.  In fact, I’ll be the first one to confess that the only time I ever held a Barbie doll was when I was burying them in the backyard.

(I may have been a little bit sadistic in my youth when it came to my sister’s toys.)

The truth is that I want my blog to appeal to a wide audience.  I want people to read my blog and find at least one topic that they can identify with.  So sometimes I may end up doing a blog entry on a topic that I know little to nothing about.

You know what though?  I love a challenge.  So, let’s get on with it.

It seems really hard to believe, but if Barbie was a real-live person, she would be fifty-three years old.  Funny how she doesn’t look a day over, say, twenty-six.  Must be all the plastic surgery she had.

(Oh, yes.  I did go there.)

In all seriousness, the first Barbie doll was released on March 3, 1959 by American businesswoman Ruth Handler (1916-2002).  Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts – the first name coming from Handler’s daughter, Barbara.

Ruth got the idea to create the Barbie doll by watching her daughter playing with a set of paper dolls, noticing that Barbara liked to give her dolls more grown-up roles.  During the mid-1950’s, almost all dolls manufactured looked like infants or toddlers, and Handler believed that there could be a market towards dolls that looked like adults.  Unfortunately, not even her husband Elliot (who co-founded the Mattel toy company) was convinced.

It wasn’t until Ruth took a trip to Europe with her children that she discovered a German doll known by the name of Bild Lilli.  The doll’s design was based from a popular comic series illustrated by Reinhard Beuthin.  Lilli’s look was that of a blonde bombshell and working girl who often used men in order to get whatever she wanted.

Some classy role model, huh?

Apparently, Bild Lilli was the perfect embodiment of the very doll that she had hoped to create.  Buying three Lilli dolls (giving one to Barbara and keeping two for herself).

Upon returning to the United States (and with assistance from engineer Jack Ryan), Handler redesigned the look of the Lilli doll, and after giving the doll the brand new name of “Barbie”, debuted the toy at the American International Toy Fair in 1959...and the rest is history.

I suppose you want to know what a Barbie doll looked like in 1959.  Well, here she is.

TRIVIA:  Although most people associate blonde hair with Barbie, the Barbie doll originally came in both blonde and brunette versions.

The Barbie doll was marketed with the slogan “The Teen-Age Fashion Model”, and her outfits were created by fashion designer Charlotte Johnson.  When Barbie was first created, the first dolls were manufactured in Japan, and her clothing items were hand-stitched by Japanese homeworkers.  Within the first year of production, around 350,000 dolls were sold.

The earliest designs of Barbie didn’t come without controversy.  You see, Ruth Handler had always intended for the Barbie doll to have an adult appearance to set it apart from other dolls, but some parents had issues with the distinct chest that Barbie sported.  As a result, some of Barbie’s body parts were augmented over the doll’s fifty-three year history.  The most glaring change occurred in 1971, when Barbie’s eyes were changed to have her looking forward, rather than side-to-side.

It is currently estimated that over one billion Barbie dolls have been sold in 150 different countries.  Mattel has actually made the claim that three Barbie dolls are sold every second!  I’m not sure if anyone has ever proven that to be true, but I can attest that at the store I work at, Barbie dolls consistently sell quite well year round.

So, what exactly makes Barbie so popular?

I really don’t know as I have never owned a Barbie (and will likely never own a Barbie), but I can only speculate that the fact that Barbie dolls comes with an entire assortment of fashion items and accessories may have something to do with it.  After all, Barbie has so many miniature outfits that she could literally wear a new outfit every day of the year!

Barbie dolls were also manufactured in different races and cultures, such as the examples below.


Another reason could be the fact that Barbie was sort of an independent woman who owned several animals, a convertible, and a beach house.  And Barbie’s also held several career options during her lifetime.  She’s been a fashion model, a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, a lifeguard, a surfer, an astronaut, an olympic gymnast, a babysitter, a pop star, a princess...she’s even worked behind the counter of a McDonald’s!

(No...I’m not kidding about that last one.  Here’s visual proof.)

And, Barbie’s not the only doll in the Barbie line.  Did you know that Barbie actually has sisters? 

Obviously the one that most girls would remember is Skipper.  I can remember seeing a lot of commercials for Skipper dolls on television when I was a kid...wondering why a Barbie doll had the same name as a character from Gilligan’s Island.  There was also Stacie, Kelly, and Chelsea, who were also added to Barbie’s family, ranging in age from toddler to pre-teen.

(Boy, Barbie’s mother must have been exhausted.)

Of course, not all Barbie dolls were welcomed with such warmth.  There was an outcry in 1992 when the company released talking Barbie dolls.  Although the Barbie dolls were programmed to say a multitude of phrases, some people ended up with a doll that said "Math class is tough!", and the company did some damage control by offering to replace any doll that said that phrase. The scandal was parodied in the Simpsons episode "Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy".

And then there’s Ken, Barbie’s plastic-haired beau whose underwear was permanently attached to his nether regions.  Barbie and Ken have had a rather interesting relationship.  They were together for decades before Barbie publicly threw Ken out of her dream house in 2004 in a very public break-up (though the break-up only lasted a couple of years). 

DISTURBING TRIVIA:  You remember how I said that Barbie was named after Ruth Handler’s daughter?  Well, Ken was named after Ruth Handler’s son, Kenneth.

Now just think about this for a second.  Barbie and Ken are two dolls who have been in love with each other forever - named after a real-life brother and sister. 

But no, that’s not disturbing at all...

And now I turn the floor over to you...

BONUS QUESTION:  What were some of your favourite Barbie memories?  Did you dress them up with love and care?  Have Barbie themed parties?  Do what I did and make your own Barbie graveyard?  I’m curious to know!

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